This past Wednesday, the Michigan State House of Representatives approved their proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. Some pieces of the bill include a forty-eight month limit on welfare benefits, a cut to clothing allowances for poor children, a twenty million dollar cut to local bus systems, a ten million dollar cut to funds appropriated to the Detroit Institute of Arts, as well as the cutting of thirty-four State Police officers.
Many Democrats in the House of Representatives expressed anger at being left out of the decision-making process. Democratic Representative Mark Meadows addressed the House, saying,
“I think that everyone here knows that the best way to rebuild Michigan is to put folks back to work. This budget does nothing to rebuild Michigan, and that’s what we need to do – rebuild Michigan, not reinvent it.”
To understand the budgeting process that is underway in Lansing, All Things Considered Host Jenn White sat down with former Republican State Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants, Ken Sikkima, as well as Susan Demas, Political Analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service.
While Governor Snyder’s proposed budget cuts were certainly substantial, the budget proposed this week by the House of Representatives cuts an additional 165 million dollars. Mr. Sikkima says the House is simply trying to balance a budget in a state that has been running a deficit for years.
“They’re trying to balance the budget for the first time in many years and get rid of the structural deficit. I think the House probably is not going to raise the same kind of revenue that Governor Snyder proposed, so they’ve got to find it elsewhere, and they’re going to find it through more spending cuts.”
Since the House, Senate, and governorship of Michigan are all Republican-controlled, the Democrats have been largely irrelevant in the budgeting process thus far. But Ms. Demas says they may have some traction when it comes to the issue of cuts to education.
“I think their best shot is with K-12 education, in particular. There are a lot of Republicans who are uncomfortable with the level of cuts. They’ve been hearing a lot of feedback and it’s really not from the unions. It’s from their state superintendents and their school boards members locally who are telling them that they cannot keep buildings open and keep teachers in the classroom with these levels of cuts. There will be a big push to restore the K-12 cuts and Democrats might get a small victory there.”
While it seems that the Democrats are approaching the budget debate without much of a strategy of their own, Demas says the Republican majorities leave the Democrats with limited influence and few options.
“Well I think there is very little that they can do. From a political standpoint, it’s much more advantageous for them to beat Republicans over the head with the unpopular parts of their plan rather than give Republicans something to use against them next election.”
Following the House vote, Republican State Representative Al Pscholka responded to Democratic criticism over the way Republicans handled the passage of the budget proposal.
“I listened and voted last week on amendments that would have added nearly a billion dollars of spending and no way to pay for it. The status-quo and more of the same just won’t cut it any longer.”
Although Republicans control both houses of congress and the governor’s office, differences remain in each of the three budgets proposed thus far. The State Senate and House must reconcile their budget proposals before sending a final budget to Governor Snyder for passage. Even though the House proposal cuts more than either the Senate proposal or Snyder’s own plan, Sikkima says he’s confident the Republicans will reconcile their plans and pass a budget quickly.
“I really don’t think this is going to be much of a problem. I think they’re going to be able to reconcile any differences they have in terms of the budget, or, for that matter, any differences they ultimately have in terms of the tax restructuring proposal fairly quickly.”
Governor Rick Snyder has set a May 31st deadline for the finalization of the budget. If the budget is passed before then, Ms. Demas says it will certainly be a political victory for the governor, but adds that there are other victories out there that would be more important for Snyder.
“It will be a big victory. I think the bigger victory is if he is able to have the new business tax go through because, you know, I think that that’s more salient for most people than some abstract budget that goes on in Lansing. And if he can announce that, say, at the Mackinac Policy Conference, which is a huge event right around that time, I think that would be a great setting for him politically.”
Eliot Johnson - Michigan Radio Newsroom