We are now halfway through the 2019-2020 Michigan legislative session, and if the first year was anything to go by, year two could be a tumultuous one. Last year began with Governor Whitmer calling for a $.45 per gallon fuel tax increase to fully fund road repair and construction. It ended with a budget standoff, an unprecedented use of the line-item veto pen, and a final compromise budget that restored much if not all of the nearly billion dollars in cuts and transfers made by Governor Whitmer. While there were moments of bipartisan collegiality (e.g. no-fault auto insurance reform), much of the year was marked by fighting words.
We enter 2020 with the relationship between the Governor’s office and the Legislature on shaky ground. This is understandable, since the Legislature is controlled by Republicans and the Governor is a Democrat. It will be interesting to watch as we begin the 2020-2021 budget process in February how the two branches will interact. The Governor will present her State of the State Address on Wednesday January 29, and she will present her 2020-2021 Fiscal Year budget proposal on February 6.
It’s been a tumultuous two months since the Governor and Legislature settled on a 2020 budget about which no one is happy. The past six weeks have provided little clarity on how the Legislature and Governor will work together moving forward. After the Legislature’s presentation of a finalized budget a mere three days before the end of the fiscal year, and the Governor’s unprecedented use of the line-item veto and administrative board powers, trust is presently a rare commodity in Lansing. Governor Whitmer and Legislative leaders have both proposed their own supplemental budgets that would restore the bulk of the nearly $1 billion that was line-item vetoed on September 30, and there is even some overlap in the proposals. However, with over a month gone by to allow dust to settle, the two sides seem no closer to a compromise agreement on restoring the cuts, let alone on a plan for future road funding.
Budget Vetoes Roil Lansing
The Legislature and Governor Whitmer managed to complete the 2020 budget process and avoid a government shutdown. That is about the most positive thing that can be said about this year’s appropriations process. At the end of September, the people of Michigan witnessed a budget battle that went down to the very last minute, produced a record number of line-item vetoes, saw the unprecedented use of executive power to shift funds from one line to another, and that left over $500 million in General Fund dollars on the table. It also concluded with no deal on long-term road and infrastructure funding.
The Michigan House and Senate are returning this week from their summer recess. They have just over a month to reach a budget agreement with Governor Whitmer in order to avoid a government shutdown. The Governor has already announced her desire to have a “Plan B” that would keep the government open even if she and the Legislature cannot reach an agreement on the budget and on road funding by September 30. The next few weeks will tell whether such a plan is needed.
The focus of the Legislature continues to be squarely on the 2020 budget – and just as importantly – whether a significant increase for transportation funding will be included. While the roads are getting 90% of the legislative and media attention, several other questions will also be answered in the next month’s budget debate. These include the future of the Caro Center Psychiatric Hospital, whether the School Aid Fund will continue to be used to pay for higher education, and how deeply some departments may be cut in order to pay to “fix the damn roads.”
More on these issues below.
For the last eight years, the Michigan Legislature has been able to finish the upcoming fiscal year budget by June or July. However, for the first time in 8 years we have split partisan power between the Legislature and the Governor. Therefore, House and Senate leaders have decided to hold off before presenting a budget to Governor Whitmer. The deadline for having a budget in place is the beginning of the next fiscal year: October 1, 2019. Because it seems likely that a budgetary showdown will occur between the Legislature and the Governor this year, it is possible that Legislative leaders feel that their hand is strengthened by delaying completion of the budget for as long as possible.
In other news, the debate over the future of the Caro Psychiatric Hospital continues; the Attorney General dismissed legal actions against state employees over the Flint water crisis (although future action is expected); and the Marijuana Regulatory Agency in the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs is preparing to expand its staff in preparation for implementation of recreational marijuana laws passed on the ballot last November. More on these stories below.
The House and Senate have nearly completed their work on their first drafts of the 2020 state budget. They have both decided to scrap Governor Whitmer’s call to increase the gas tax by $.45 per gallon. Instead, they have attempted to reduce General Fund spending across most departments in order to free up more funds to dedicate to road and bridge repair and maintenance. Governor Whitmer has pledged to veto any budget that fails to provide at least $2 billion in new transportation funding, and it is looking more and more like she will be forced to either make good on that threat or back down.
Also this month, the Legislature passed legislation making sweeping changes to Michigan’s Auto No-Fault Insurance laws, and the House is reviewing changes to state and school employee retirement benefits. More on these issues below.
The Legislature will return next week from their Spring Recess, and the outlook for next year’s budget discussions is as cloudy as ever. Governor Whitmer’s budget proposal hinges on a $.45 per gallon gas tax increase. While there was little immediate reaction from the Republican-controlled Legislature, their messaging has been slowly coalescing into what could be a complete rejection of that proposal. Without those funds, the Governor’s proposal falls apart. Lansing is eagerly awaiting to see what the Legislature’s alternative might be.
The first month of a new legislative session is coming to a close, and it has been a whirlwind of meeting new legislators, perusing committee assignments, and re-acquainting ourselves with policy makers in new positions. Moreover, the changeover from the Snyder Administration to the Whitmer Administration is moving along slowly but steadily as her cabinet and key staffers have been announced on a piecemeal basis. One of the last department heads to be named was Robert Gordon, the new DHHS Director. Mr. Gordon previously was a member of the Obama Administration where he served as the acting deputy director at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and also as the acting assistant secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Education.
The Governor presented her State of the State address on February 12 in which she made several positive remarks about state workers and their value to Michigan. Her budget presentation will take place in early March, and it will be there where she lays out more detailed specifics about her policy goals.
At the end of every two year legislative session, there is a period after the election results are tallied, but before the new elected officials are sworn into office. This period is known as the Lame Duck session, since it allows recently defeated or term-limited lawmakers to set policy for approximately six weeks. This year, the election results changed the power structure in Lansing starting January 1, and the individuals currently in office took extraordinary steps to cling to that power.
The sheer volume of legislation passed by the Michigan House and Senate over the past month has dwarfed all recent Lame Duck sessions. In fact, the Legislature passed more bills in the last four weeks of session than they had in the previous two years. The pace was so rapid that the House and Senate often worked well into the early morning hours voting on one bill after another. The Legislature finally adjourned on Friday, December 21 at approximately 8am.
Since then, Governor-elect Whitmer has made an increasing number of announcements about her new cabinet choices. She has also stated her intent to keep the Department of Health and Human Services intact, addressing rumors that she might decide to split it again into two separate departments. More on these issues and others below.
After a hard-fought election, the next governor of Michigan will be Democrat Gretchen Whitmer. While Democrats made gains in both the House and Senate, Republicans kept their majorities in both chambers. The Legislature is returning to Lansing for the “Lame Duck” session that could include several attempts to make more changes to various pension laws. We may also face attacks on public employee collective bargaining rights as the Republican leaders see the next few weeks as their last chance before a new Democratic administration takes over.
The Legislature wrapped up their summer recess with a two day session last week. They will not be in session again until October, and even that is expected to be abbreviated. The focus is completely on the November election right now, and with it shaping up to be one of the more competitive elections in recent years, legislators are spending all of their time on the campaign trail.
The Legislature has wrapped up the Fiscal Year 2018-19 appropriations process and has recessed for the summer. Before they left, they passed a large package of bills dealing with sexual assault in response to the events at Michigan State University.
The Michigan Legislature is back in session after the two-week spring recess. Over the last month, House and Senate Appropriation Subcommittees have been holding hearings to review Governor Snyder’s budget proposal.
The Michigan Legislature is in the middle of a two-week spring recess. Over the last month, House and Senate Appropriation Subcommittees have been holding hearings to review Governor Snyder’s budget proposal. We are approximately half-way through the budget process and most subcommittees are preparing their initial reports for their individual departmental spending numbers.
The Legislature has returned from after the holiday recess and will soon turn much of its attention to the budget process. Governor Snyder gave his last State of the State address on January 23, and his final budget presentation will take place on February 7.
As 2017 comes to a close, we are halfway through the current two-year legislative session. The Michigan House and Senate have adjourned for the remainder of the year and will return to session on January 10. Before they left, they completed work on a package of bills aimed at making reforms to the state’s unemployment insurance system, said farewell to Representative Andy Schor who will step down to become the new Mayor of Lansing, and passed legislation creating an early warning system of sorts for municipal pension systems.
The Michigan Legislature spent much of the last two months working on reforms to Michigan’s No-Fault Auto Insurance law. While there is near universal agreement that Michiganders (and we are officially “Michiganders” now thanks to Senate Bill 562) are paying too much for auto insurance, there is a massive debate on how to solve that problem.
Although the Legislature has been on summer break since June, that does not mean that nothing is happening in Lansing. Plenty of officials and legislators are planning rule changes or legislation that will begin moving in the fall.
The budget impasse between the Legislature and the Governor regarding the future of the school pension system continues into June. State prisons would see a $10 million cut to their operations under the 2017-18 fiscal year budget approved today by a House-Senate conference committee.
The last month has been a whirlwind of conflicting budget numbers and proposals between the House, Senate and Governor Snyder. Complicating the annual appropriations process has been the agreement between Speaker of the House Tom Leonard and Senate Majority Leader Arlen Meekhof that the greatest threat to Michigan at this moment are public school pensions.
The 99th Michigan Legislature was seated in Lansing this month. The term begins with a new Speaker, Representative Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt) in the Chair, but the same Republican/Democrat split of 63-47. It is widely believed that the Republican caucus has become more politically conservative as a result of the election, but that has yet to be seen.
The election is upon us and it is one of the strangest our nation has ever had. Rarely have there been two presidential contenders that were so unpopular. Donald Trump’s highly unorthodox campaign could still bear fruit on November 8, but the latest polls show him a longshot to defeat Hillary Clinton. In Michigan, Clinton is up by anywhere from 5-8 points in the polls, but it is still hard to say how that will affect down-ballot races, if at all.
The Primary Election is over, and due to the nature of Michigan’s legislative districts, that means that about 80% of Michigan House Seats have essentially been decided due to the fact that most seats are skewed toward one party or the other.
The Michigan Legislature is in the middle of its summer recess, but most legislators and staff have shifted into campaign mode. Every seat in the Michigan House is up for election this year, though the Michigan Senate members will not appear on the ballot until 2018.
Today the House Workforce and Talent Committee reported out legislation that would seriously undermine Michigan's decades old Civil Service system. Civil Service was established in the Michigan Constitution as a bar to politically motivated employment practices in state government.
A major disagreement has developed on the Department of Corrections budget with the chief senator on the topic backing a 2016-17 fiscal year budget proposal that would close two prisons and call for the department to lease and operate a privately owned prison in Baldwin.
The Legislature just embarked on their two week Spring Recess, also called the In-District Work Period. They will return on April 12 to continue work on the budget, Detroit Public School reforms, and other pressing issues. Fallout regarding the Flint Water Crisis continues to dominate the agenda, and there will likely be more discussions regarding assistance to Flint residents through the spring.
The Legislature has completed work on the 2016 budget and is preparing for a few months of “district work” during which time the House and Senate will be on their summer recess. Although the Senate will return next week for a short session, and the House is due to return for one day in July, most observers do not expect much legislative action before fall.
Most of the budgets winning approval Tuesday from House-Senate conference committees sailed through with no opposition, but the move to close one of the three state-run juvenile facilities in the Department of Human Services' budget prompted strong Democratic opposition.
Budget cuts and a major departmental overhaul topped the headlines in Lansing this month. In January, the House Fiscal Agency discovered a major shortfall in the current year budget, forcing over $300 million in cuts and transfers to bring the budget back into balance.
Lansing in Full Campaign Mode as Election Nears – Lame Duck Session Looming. Although the Legislature has had a few session days this fall, they have taken relatively little action on controversial issues such as transportation funding and education reforms.
The Michigan Legislature is nearly halfway through the budget process as they prepare to take time off for much of April for their spring recess. Of course, when I say “taking time off,” for most State Representatives and State Senators that means “attending town halls, hosting constituent coffee hours, reading to students at elementary schools, and knocking doors in their district.”
The Legislature has returned from the holiday recess and is back in full swing. Last week, Governor Snyder presented his State of the State address, and in it he discussed his administration's accomplishments over the past three years and made a few new proposals (see below).
The Michigan Legislature is halfway through the 2013-2014 session. On some fronts, issues remain in flux. The recent changes to the Michigan Court of Claims will have an as yet undetermined impact on litigation over payroll deductions for state employees' pensions.
The Michigan Court of Claims was established in the State Constitution to hear cases against the State of Michigan. Lawsuits seeking monetary compensation are referred to the Court of Claims, which processes them.
State Administrative Board Approves Aramark Contract
Despite strong and reasoned opposition from MAGE, on September 30, the State Administrative Board unanimously approved contracting out prison food services to Aramark.
The state Legislature is currently on summer break. The Legislature is scheduled to meet a few times during the summer; however, they may not reconvene until late August for official voting, unless Senate leadership decides they have arrived at a version of Medicaid expansion that is ripe for a vote, which now seems likely.
On June 13, Governor Snyder signed the Omnibus Budget Act into law. This bill contains the 2013-2014 appropriation for all state departments. Once again, the issue of privatization featured prominently in this year's budget discussions.
Budget Process Advances; Major holes remain.
On paper, the state's budget process has made a lot of progress, but some significant gaps in revenue resulting from disagreements over Medicaid expansion, assistance with utility shut offs for indigent citizens, and increased funding for roads have yet to be resolved.