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Fri September 25, 2009
Budget negotiations drag into another day
By Rick Pluta, Michigan Public Radio Network
LANSING, MI – Lawmakers return to the state Capitol for a rare Friday session to try and break a budget deadlock. The Legislature met all day Thursday, but made little progress.
Once the session began, lawmakers mostly hung out and gossiped as morning turned to afternoon, and afternoon to evening. The state Senate approved a few budgets that cut money for veterans groups, horse tracks, and farmers that donate produce to food banks, and called it a night. The House also scrubbed plans for an all-nighter, and everyone was told to come back this morning.
There is no consensus on what do next. There's not enough support for big spending cuts. There's not enough support for tax hikes that would be needed to make the cuts less draconian.
The budget plan before the Legislature would trim per-student financial aid to K-12 schools by $218, and make big cuts to intermediate school districts. It would eliminate the Michigan Promise college scholarship and other types of student financial aid. And big cuts to Medicaid could force some clinics and nursing homes to close.
"I think people are recognizing some of these cuts are too deep," said Democratic House Speaker Andy Dillon. Dillon says he thinks Republicans - including some across the Rotunda in the state Senate - may be starting to come around to the idea that new revenue is needed.
"I think from what I'm hearing, a lot of senators are nervous with the magnitude of the cuts, so I think we're going to find a good, fair, comparable solution that works for everybody," Dillon says.
"I certainly hope he's not talking about revenues now because that was not part of our agreement," says Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop. Bishop says he is still sticking to a deal with Dillon to cut spending by $1.2 billion, and use federal stimulus money to backfill the rest of a $2.8 billion dollar deficit. He says any talk of tax increases is premature, and the Senate wants the House to go ahead and approve budgets with no expectations of additional revenue.
"But if I don't see it, then we've got nothing to do, we're sitting here with no reason again, so a little frustration right now, but I still believe we can hit these targets," Bishop says.
"Those cuts are just too high. They're damaging," says Representative Fred Durhal. He chairs the House budget subcommittee that includes state aid for cities, townships, and counties.
"Can you imagine what will happen? You have 20 cities right now that are on the list to go belly up because they don't have the cash money to do what's needed to be done to keep fire, police, and the administrations in those cities going," Durhal says.
Durhal and other Democrats who want to mitigate cuts with more revenue are getting backing from Governor Granholm. She made a brief appearance on the House floor to lend her support.
"You know, the ball's obviously in the Legislature's court at this point, and they're working very hard to get it across the line before the budget deadline," Granholm says. "I'm trying do everything I can to help them."
Granholm has called for new taxes on beer, tobacco, bottled water, soda pop, and live entertainment. She says that would help rescue college scholarships, pre-school and K-12 education, Medicaid, and money for local police and fire services from deep cuts.
"We know that there are going to be big cuts, so people need to be prepared for cuts," Granholm says. "I'd like to see some softening of the worst cuts because some of the worst cuts would be dangerous for Michigan residents."
The House or the Senate could vote today for a temporary budget that continues spending at current levels for a month. If one chamber or the other does not do that, it would become procedurally impossible to use that as a backup plan. And it would increase the pressure on lawmakers to wrap up their work before the budget deadline that's now five days away.