Legislators really need that summer break

May 27, 2016
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Michigan legislators are two weeks away from summer recess, a time given to patriotic parades and town hall meetings, with the Mackinac Policy Conference this weekend serving as the unofficial start to the politicking season of national party conventions and fall elections — already unlike any in recent history. It is the time elected legislators become hyper-local, providing a full schedule of up-close constituent time (and fundraising opportunities).

The backdrop of unresolved issues looks like anything but a lazy summer day of glad-handing, cherry pie and iced tea.

The Michigan Department of Treasury last week noted general and school aid revenues are $122 million less than projected in January. (The House and Senate fiscal agencies reported the revenues would be $149 million to $200 million less and up to $305 million less next year.)

Senate Appropriations chairman Dave Hildebrand, R-Lowell, told the Associated Press the budget framework is in place with the governor, House and Senate leaders. AP noted Hildebrand characterized unsettled details as small.

Reports indicate Gov. Snyder’s proposal to provide $165 million more to Flint for its water emergency is unchanged, but his proposal to fund water pipes and aging infrastructure statewide has been cut from the proposed $165 million to $5 million. In addition, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality will pay the fees for the two department employees charged with evidence-tampering, misconduct in office and safe drinking water violations (charges filed by Attorney General Bill Schuette).

In other budget news, Medicaid cost estimates are up $127 million; the Department of Corrections budget has been reduced by $27 million and two prisons are scheduled to close; and the Detroit Public Schools will be out of money June 30, two weeks after legislators take a recess, but they have agreed to pay off its $467 million debt. Detroit teachers are not assured they will be paid.

While comparatively high interest has been shown by constituents in regard to Michigan’s sustainable energy standards and energy competition (among those, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce), legislation introduced by Rep. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek, provides neither.

The unfunded liabilities in Michigan’s $55 billion proposed budget will certainly not be less expensive to fix down the road — in fact, it is akin to the decades-long roads fund dismissals.

The legislators instead have busied themselves passing “sensible” legislation: Coercing a woman to have an abortion would be a misdemeanor; Michigan law now prohibits voters from using a single mark to vote for candidates from one party; Gov. Snyder is expected to sign a bill that affirms a 180-day window for ballot drive signature collection. The Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that Michigan law passed earlier this year that limited dissemination of information in regard to school ballot proposals is unconstitutional.

While legislative priorities seem to be unclear, never fear; constituent face time is near.

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