It's Just Politics

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We all like to know the balance in our checking or our savings account, right? My guess is, every so often, you go online or you go to the bank and you see what your balance looks like. Maybe, if you’ve got a few extra bucks, you buy yourself something nice. Or, maybe the account is a little dry and, then, you know it’s time to cut back. Well, just like you, the state has an account… given, it’s probably MUCH larger… with many more zeros than you have… but the idea is the same.

This morning, in Lansing, the officials that keep an eye on the state’s bank account met at what’s officially called the Revenue Estimating Conference. Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network was at the conference, and he spoke with me this afternoon from the Capitol building about what the numbers for the state's "bank account" look like for 2012.

To boil it down, consider some basic questions you might ask about your own finances:

  • How much? : Pluta reports that a figure of $1 billion in budget surplus has been tossed around a lot by reporters over the last few days, but once upcoming spending pressures for 2012 are factored in, that number comes down to roughly $457 million.
  • Spend or save? : Pluta says that according to the state's budget director, some surplus money could go into things like Medicaid and schools, but to improve the state's bond ratings, a portion will also likely go into savings.
  • What about the economy? : Economists also weighed in at the conference and according to Pluta, the general consensus was that Michigan saw decent economic improvement early on in 2011 with growth of about 64,000 jobs for the year, but in recent moths things have become more sluggish--a trend that is expected to continue in 2012. Economists predict growth to the tune of roughly 27,000 new jobs in the state.
  • What does the governor think? : Okay, so maybe you wouldn't ask yourself that question when thinking about your banking, but Pluta reports that regarding the state's money, Governor Rick Snyder plans to release recommendations soon, both about how the surplus should be used and what the next fiscal-year budget should look like.
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In Michigan, voters are allowed to overturn laws they don't like. This is how it works: you try and get enough signatures to get a referendum to repeal the law on a ballot. If a majority of voters vote against the law... it's repealed. But there's a catch: laws that have appropriations attached to them cannot be repealed by voters.

Just this week, Michigan Radio reported on a proposal that would drastically alter the state’s no-fault auto insurance law. The House proposal includes a $50,000 appropriation that protects the measure from a voter-led ballot initiative.

This is the fourth time this year Republican lawmakers at the state Capitol have added appropriations to a controversial bill to keep it referendum-proof.

I spoke with Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, about this cunning, political maneuver. He’s been keeping an eye on this story for months.

Why We Should Care

For some, the words, “referendum,” “appropriation,” and “voter-led ballot” aren’t that important; in fact, maybe they just sound like more of the same insider politics. But, Pluta explains it this way:

If you’re a voter who does not think that anything the legislature does should ever be challenged, I guess you would consider [this] not too terribly important. But, if you do think that [the right to vote against a law in a referendum] should be preserved… then you might find the whole thing to be a little devious.

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