By Nick Smith
Posted: May 7, 2023 8:41 PM
Budgets bills now sitting on the floor of the House and Senate are less than Governor Gretchen Whitmer's proposal from earlier this year in General Fund while both chambers have recommended spending more overall.
Next week the Senate is expected to begin voting on a series of budget bills containing $79.5 billion in gross adjusted spending. This is slightly above the governor's proposed budget of $79.4 billion in gross adjusted spending.
Numbers from the Senate Fiscal Agency show the governor's proposed spending in General Fund at more than $14.8 billion, while the Senate appropriators crafted a proposal containing about $14.3 billion General Fund.
For the School Aid Fund, the governor proposed slightly more ($19.09 billion) than the Senate Appropriations Committee members ($19.06 billion).
The House has proposed spending slightly less General Fund than Ms. Whitmer, $14.7 billion compared to $14.8 billion with the gross total above the executive budget recommendation. The House committee proposes a gross total budget of $81.4 billion, compared to Ms. Whitmer's $80.6 billion.
Both the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday reported the final budget bills to the floor of their respective chambers, setting the table for continued negotiations between the Legislature and Ms. Whitmer's office.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) told reporters with the movement of bills, she believes the Legislature is still on target with her goal of completing the budget later this month or in early June.
"There have been, in some ways, significant differences between the executive recommendations and the House, but I'm excited to get in the room and start working through those details," Ms. Anthony said.
She explained that in multiple budgets the appropriations panels had similar spending levels while proposing different methods of funding various priorities.
Ms. Anthony said she did not believe the House, Senate and administration are too far off as they approach negotiations in the coming weeks. The chair said she also does not expect many surprises in the final product.
When asked about the involvement of Republicans in the process so far, Ms. Anthony said she directed her subcommittee chairs to be in regular contact with their Republican colleagues on amendments or finding ways to put some of their priorities into the budget.
"I personally think that each and every Republican has the ability to fight for their own communities," Ms. Anthony said.
HOUSE COMMITTEE MEETING: The Appropriations Committee reported the House's remaining seven budgets for the 2023-24 fiscal year to the House floor on Wednesday. The budgets included General Government (HB 4292), the Department of Corrections (HB 4247), K-12 school aid (HB 4286), Department of Education (HB 4287), Department of Transportation (HB 4309), Department of Health and Human Services (HB 4310) and Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (HB 4246).
The biggest change made Wednesday was an amendment to the General Government budget proposal, which added $10 million to help the Department of State implement Proposal 22-2.
Coming out of subcommittee, the Department of State was only allotted $5 million of the implementation for implementing additional costs of Proposal 1 and Proposal 2 for the 2023-24 fiscal year. The subcommittee also concurred with Ms. Whitmer's recommendation to provide an additional $11.5 million for the current fiscal year to implement the proposals. Still, the proposal fell far short of Ms. Benson's request for a $177.6 million supplemental for the current year and next year's budget. Ms. Benson's proposal was to, among other things, cover the cost of early voting as well as what she described as historic underfunding of local clerk operations.
The amendment would provide an additional $10 million for Proposal 2, which was passed by voters last November, and would bring the total up to $15 million. Rep. Felicia Brabec (D- Pittsfield Township), who chairs the House Appropriations General Government Subcommittee and put forward the amendment on Wednesday stressed that conversations were still ongoing.
"We want to be able to support what our residents overwhelmingly said to us," she said. "We just need to do continued work on that."
The amendment to the General Government budget was the only significant change to the budgets coming out of the subcommittees, though other amendments were adopted to adjust boilerplate language.
Nearly 100 amendments were put forward by Republicans during the committee meeting, which lasted for more than four hours, but all of them failed.
Most of the Republican-proposed amendments related to retaining a reporting requirement for a state agency; reducing or eliminating a budget line item for a new or existing program; providing funding for charter schools; eliminating diversity, equity and inclusion requirements for certain funding; and increasing funding for local infrastructure.
"The big picture of it is, the governor and the Democrats wanted to spend all of our surplus and dwindle that, often creating new programs that have to be sustained in the future," said Jerry Ward, press secretary for House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Township). "And…we want to make sure there's transparency and when we are spending money…it's going into things that matter, such as local roads, things that are going to continue to have an impact for years to come."
Democrats have retained much of the reporting language that was struck in Governor Gretchen Whitmer's budget recommendation and included an additional $400 million in local road funding that was not in the executive budget, but Mr. Ward said Republicans want to see more.
Rep. Sarah Lightner (R-Springport) said she was disappointed that none of the Republican amendments have been adopted during the budget process so far.
"The Democrats voted down program reports and transparency practices within numerous budgets. For example, the budget for the Unemployment Insurance Agency has no checks and balances to ensure federal dollars provided to the UIA are spent properly. Guard rails have been eliminated, enabling the UIA director to spend taxpayer dollars 'willy nilly' without any oversight from the Legislature. Democrats voted down our amendment to hold the UIA director accountable to Michigan taxpayers by requiring them to come before the Appropriations committees before spending taxpayer dollars," she said in a statement. "I'm hopeful we will see more bipartisan collaboration in the coming weeks as we move through the budget process."
With the bills reported on Wednesday, all House subcommittee budgets have made it through the House Appropriations Committee and have been reported to the floor.
The numbers reported during the Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference on May 19 will help refine the final numbers for the budget.
SENATE COMMITTEE MEETING: The final two budget bills were reported to the full Senate on Wednesday: the Department of Health and Human Services budget (SB 190) and the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (SB 194). Both bills were reported 13-6 along party lines, as has been the case with each budget bill thus far.
Sen. Jon Bumstead (R-North Muskegon), the minority vice chair on the panel, explained the GOP vote against the DHHS budget by saying the bill's contents were "kind of a surprise" for his caucus. He referenced the significant number of line items for programs.
"There's a lot of stuff in here we just didn't know about, there's a lot of special projects," Mr. Bumstead said. "We're just a no on this; there were so many projects."
He pointed to the Highland Park water debt funding as an example while questioning why it would be placed in the DHHS budget.
Mr. Bumstead repeated a concern he expressed to reporters following Tuesday's meeting, saying his caucus was not aware of any proposed amendments until shortly before the hearing and would prefer to have more notice.
As to the issue of whether the Republicans take any steps such as not granting immediate effect on the budget, Mr. Bumstead said his caucus will have to work out a plan to proceed soon.
The question of whether the Republicans will provide the necessary votes to grant immediate effect on final passage of the budget came up Tuesday. If the budget is not granted immediate effect it could prevent the state from having the spending authority to operate at the start of the fiscal year on October 1.
The senator said it will take some time before Republican leadership is brought more closely into negotiations given the one-party control by Democrats.
"The governor's going to have to work with her caucus in the House and in the Senate … it's going to be a lot of haggling there before they start dealing with us," Mr. Bumstead said.
Not a single amendment for the DHHS budget was proposed Wednesday prior to it being reported, but there could end up being floor amendments.
As to the LEO budget, two amendments were introduced by Sen. Mary Cavanagh (D-Redford Township) and were adopted, both by 13-6 votes along party lines.
The first amendment includes language as to how some of the funding for the College Success Fund must be used as well as language governing the use of one-time funds for construction training.
In the second amendment, there are multiple changes adding monies to several items including for entrepreneurship, minority-owned businesses and the disabilities network. Some of the items were placeholders while others had larger dollar amounts, which Ms. Cavanagh told reporters places them in the budget for further negotiations.
Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Health and Human Services Subcommittee , told reporters the DHHS budget is a "fair budget" that is nonpartisan and provides for many people across the state.
When asked about Mr. Bumstead's concerns with the numerous programs within the DHHS budget, Ms. Santana said, "there are programs out here that are doing the work but maybe not have the resources to build capacity" and the funding, in many cases one-time monies, can be of use.
She pointed to homeless shelters and substance abuse centers as examples of targeting different statewide priorities.
As to the concerns by Republicans over the Highland Park funding, Ms. Santana pointed to the governor's proposal for $100 million in water infrastructure in her budget proposal.
"I thought this would be a great utilization of those dollars," Ms. Santana said, adding there is time to work out which budget such monies might work best to address that item. "I thought it made sense in this particular budget to be able to support them."
This story was reported by Nick Smith and Elena Durnbaugh.