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Mon September 28, 2009
Budget deal edges closer
By Rick Pluta, Michigan Public Radio Network
LANSING, MI – At the state Capitol, the House and the Senate canceled plans to meet into the weekend to try and strike a budget deal. The Legislature will also take off Monday because of the Jewish Yom Kippur religious holiday. But legislative leaders say they're confident they can wrap work on the budget as soon as Tuesday.
Promptly at 2 P. M., the House was gaveled into order by the chief clerk. There was an invocation -- also read by the clerk. And, then, with no quorum, the clerk ended a rare Sunday House session.
The scene was similar in the state Senate.
But House and Senate budget committees continued to meet in a mostly deserted Capitol building to sign agreements on corrections spending and the state Department of Education. The latter budget includes big cuts to libraries.
Republican Representative Chuck Moss says, "I hate to do this, to do this to libraries, but there's just no money. I hate like hell to cut the libraries."
Moss says lawmakers are coming to grips with the difficult decisions they have to make to balance the budget and backfill a $2.8 billion shortfall.
Moss says, as bad as things are, he won't ask taxpayers for more. "You know anybody out there who's got money to pay? People are taking pay cuts, getting laid off, people are losing their jobs. Nobody's got any money out there. The businesses are barely hanging on. The Big Three are flat on their butts. There's just no money out there," Moss says.
Stacy Mathie was also on the island. Mathie and two dozen other protesters took a weekend trip to the state Capitol to demand the Legislature finish up work on the budget without raising taxes.
"I'm here because Michigan is suffering right now. Unemployment is high. People cannot afford high taxes. We've had enough," Mathie says.
But without some new revenue, there aren't the votes in the Legislature for the big cuts that are needed to balance the budget. House Appropriations Committee Chairman George Cushingberry is circulating a list of prospective new taxes on bottled water, cell phone service, satellite TV, and fast food, among other things.
"There are a lot of people who are advocating to stop the cuts, but are not willing to step up to the plate for more revenues," Cushingberry says.
Cushingberry says too many lawmakers want to have it all ways. He says there's not enough support to cut spending by more than $1 billion. There's not enough support to mitigate those cuts by raising hundreds of millions of dollars with new taxes. But he says there's been no shortage of support for reducing revenues by creating new business tax breaks.
"We've cut 600 million dollars in tax revenue annually if you aggregate all the tax cuts that we've passed, so we continue to weaken ourselves as we listen to loudmouth tax cutters," Cushingberry says.
State Senator Alan Cropsey is a senior Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee. "At this point, I don't see enough votes for any tax or fee increases," Cropsey says. "Our caucus is adamant that we need to have a budget within the existing revenues - no tax hikes."
Democratic leaders say votes for taxes and fees will be needed to balance the budget without devastating cuts to local governments, schools, and college scholarships.
So the budget balancing game is down to counting votes in the Senate and in the House. And it is possible that neither side will prevail with just a couple of days before the budget deadline - when the impasse could give way to a government shutdown.