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$81.7 billion budget isn’t the final word

Michigan State Capitol
Wikipedia Media Commons
Michigan State Capitol


Rick Pluta: I’m Rick Pluta.

Colin Jackson: I’m Colin Jackson.

“Mr. President, I move the Senate do now adjourn! (big applause)

Rick Pluta: And that is the sound of happy lawmakers who just finished work on a pair of budget bills totaling $81.7 billion — record-setting. So, Colin, this was kind of a different budget process than what we usually see. Why was that?

Colin Jackson: Well–aside from a multi-billion-dollar surplus raining money–we saw Democrats fully in charge for the first time since the 1980s. In recent years… Republicans who controlled the Legislature had to come to the table with a Democratic governor. But with a Democratic trifecta of the House… Senate… and Governor’s office… Democrats largely worked it out amongst themselves–looping in Republicans when it became necessary. Representative Sarah Lightner is the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.

“There’s a Democrat trifecta, so realistically, they don’t need us. But to show good governance, they have reached across the aisle.”

Colin Jackson: So Rick, what did Democrats and Republicans get out of this? After all, new district maps made it so you have a decent number of Democrats and Republicans representing the same areas.

Rick Pluta: Well, there was something for almost everyone --- tax cuts and more money in savings accounts – this budget creates a “rainy day” savings account for the schools budget – that’s a big deal. Both sides were happy about things like an increase in per-pupil spending. Democrats celebrated getting universal pre-school funding. Public universities and community colleges are expected to cap tuition and fee hikes at four-point-five percent. Republicans appreciated paying down debt. But we should return to that point you just made about redistricting. New district lines changed things.

Colin Jackson: With areas like Jackson County where you can have both a Republican representative and a Democratic senator, bipartisanship kind of gets forced. Still…this budget got very limited Republican support in the House. Why?

Rick Pluta: On the one hand, there are a lot of pork projects to give a little something to everyone so the folks back home are happy. Democrats and Republicans benefitted from that. But for some Republicans it was too much government bloat. Representative Andrew Beeler, who got a hometown project rejected, said he would have voted “no” on the budget regardless.

"If a drop of water is a dollar, this budget was eight Olympic-size swimming pools of money, OK?”

Rick Pluta: When we talk about this pork spending, it’s being handled differently this year – what’s new?

Colin Jackson: Something that comes up every year is transparency–especially when it comes to grants. So now… we’re going to get a new website to track grant funding and the lawmaker or department that asked for it. Senate Appropriations chair Sarah Anthony:

“I think transparency is transparency, and at the end of the day, I think people have asked for more. This is one big step in that process.”

Rick Pluta: We should mention this is not the final word. First of all, this all now goes to the governor. She’ll sign the bills, that’s a near-certainty. But she can carve out pieces using the line-item veto. Also, even though these main budget bills are done, there’s always a sort-of clean-up budget bill floating around to deal with spending issues that crop up.

Colin Jackson: Right. It’s called the supplemental budget. Sounds exciting. So here are a couple things that got punted: Money to attract an insulin production facility, putting hundreds of millions of dollars toward a business attraction fund. Just a couple of examples of what could be part of a future supplemental.

Rick Pluta: So the budget’s always being worked on. Even though the budget’s -quote- “done,” the budget’s still a work in progress. The budget’s done – long live the budget.

Rick Pluta: I’m Rick Pluta.

Colin Jackson: And I’m Colin Jackson.

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Rick Pluta is the managing editor for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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