In Focus Today
7:10 pm
Wed September 30, 2009

MI House and the Senate continue to debate budgets as deadline looms

LANSING, MI – At the state Capitol, the House and the Senate continue to debate and vote on budgets with a midnight deadline only few hours away.

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With the deadline approaching, budget bills inched forward, and lawmakers began discussing the need for more revenue to avert spending cuts to scholarships, schools, local governments, and health care.

Some House Democrats defied their leadership and continued to vote against budget bills until they could secure promises that votes on taxes and fees are coming. Democratic Representative Alma Wheeler Smith argued that the K-12 budget, for example, shortchanges students.

"It's time for us to fund the new brains that will make the state we want it to be and we need it to be if we're going to turn this slump around," she said. "It's time for this Legislature and this leadership from the legislative and the executive branches to say, put the dollars where the people's interest is."

The House gave a nod in the direction of Democrats such as Smith earlier today when it passed a budget bill that would restore funding for the Michigan Promise scholarship, Medicaid, and local governments. But it never identified how it would pay the $260 million that it would cost.

Republican Representative John Proos said the measure is an empty gesture until there's a way to pay for it.

"At this point, it's coming out of thin air," he argued. "We're not quite sure where that comes from. We don't know where those dollars come from to fill some of the programs that we know are very difficult to cut."

Democratic leaders say they have revenue proposals that will be unveiled later. Some ideas that have been discussed include taxes on bottled water, satellite TV service, and concerts, sporting events, and other live entertainment. Senator Jason Allen and other Senate Republicans say any discussion of new revenue will have to wait for another day.

"I have great concerns about raising taxes at this time, when we're trying to attract investment," he said. "The first issue is we've got to ensure the government stays open."

State government will shut down at midnight in the absence of a budget deal. But the House and the Senate have approved a temporary budget to buy lawmakers another month.

Democratic Representative George Cushingberry chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

"The continuation is part of the safety net - to make sure we don't have a shutdown," he explained.

That measure is back in the Senate, where it is waiting on a procedural vote before it can go to Governor Granholm.

She responded by ordering state departments to inform 52 thousand state workers that they are laid off effective at one minute past midnight unless they get word that there is a budget deal.