A lot of Nervousness in Lansing

October 24, 2010
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With the general election just over the horizon, Becky Bechler of Public Affairs Associates told the Kent County Legislative Committee that state lawmakers will be in session for 13 days during the lame-duck period.

“We do anticipate a pretty active lame duck session,” she said.

Bechler, who is the county’s lobbyist in Lansing, said some of the more contested issues that will be debated during that time include increasing the funding for the Pure Michigan advertising campaign, a proposed second bridge to Canada, the higher education budget, and a few other issues Gov. Jennifer Granholm wants resolved before she leaves office in January. Bechler also said there are votes for a change in the state’s gas tax in both the House and Senate, but she added that the chambers’ leaders may not let the votes go forward.

“There are some quiet negotiations going on in Lansing,” said Bechler. “There is a lot of nervousness in Lansing, but it’s also quiet in Lansing.”

Bechler said she expects Republicans will maintain control of the state Senate, where the GOP has a 22-16 majority. Democrats currently control the state House 65 to 43, but Bechler said Republicans have more money to spend on TV ads. She said State Sen. Mark Jansen, a Grand Rapids Republican, wants to be the chamber’s majority leader but that he may be willing to let someone else take that position. If so, Bechler said Jansen could become the floor leader in the Senate.

As for the often-reported $100 million surplus in the state’s general fund budget, Bechler said, “It depends on who you ask. Some have said some of the numbers weren’t reality numbers. There is a lot of confusion in Lansing regarding the budget.”

As for the county’s general fund budget, members of the Finance Committee held their second session on the 2011 budget last week. They learned that 13 of the 23 departments and funds that receive money from the spending plan will likely see less next year than what was allocated in 2009. The cuts range from 1 percent to 16 percent and result in a total of nearly $830,000 fewer funds going from the general budget for those 13 operations than what was adopted two years ago.

County Treasurer Kenneth Parrish felt the budget’s major revenue source — property taxes —would be down next year as the State Equalized Value is more than likely to decline more than the inflation rate. He also said the interest the general fund earns from investments might not reach $1.5 million for the year because the Federal Reserve continues to keep its lending rate to banks at a nearly unprecedented low level.

“I don’t know if we’re going to hit that ($1.5 million) or not, to be honest with you,” said Parrish. “The forecast I’m hearing is rates won’t increase for the next two years. It’s great for borrowers, but not for savers and lenders.”

The 2011 general fund budget that County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio gave the committee earlier this month is balanced for all practical purposes at $165.1 million, with less than $14,000 needed from the fund’s reserve.

Still, Delabbio reminded the committee that the county doesn’t have complete control over all of the budget’s expenditures, and alterations to the budget’s expense ledger may have to be made after the commission adopts it — which is likely to happen next month.

“I believe that leaving a portion of the board-authorized fund balance available to address mid-year, unanticipated spikes or upward trends in these areas will allow us to ensure that the budget remains in compliance with the established parameters for the entire year, as well as its adoption,” he wrote in the budget summary he presented last week.

Earlier in the year, county commissioners said Delabbio could transfer as much as $2 million from the reserve to bring the general fund into balance. The county’s new fiscal year begins Jan. 1.

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