Thursday, August 27, 2009

If Push Comes to Shove, the Michigan Legislature Would Own A Shutdown

There is a way to avoid taking Michigan to a government shutdown when it comes to dealing with our budget crisis... at least, I think that was what Governor Granholm was trying to say when she wasn't busy inadvertently provoking a constitutional crisis. A "what if" question on the budget deadline started innocently enough (or Albin is taking Skubick lessons, one or the other) during a press conference yesterday, and the governor's answer, speaking technically only, was that the difference between 2007 and this year is simply one of cash flow.

The governor went on to say that a repeat of the 2007 shutdown is not necessary because this year the state's been thrown a lifeline from the federal government in the form of stimulus funds.

"Technically, we could have a budget for this year. The difficult decisions now are focused on what happens next year when the stimulus dollars go away, so we will not have to shut down in the same way that we had to in 2007."

The governor went on to say, in response to a reporter's question, that she believes she can spend the stimulus money by issuing an executive order.

And that got Mike Bishop all huffy and puffy and hot under the collar, and in the process of being Big Man On Campus, he claims that only the Legislature can be responsible for spending. That is correct, but only because it hasn't been tested in a crisis.

"It's a one-line statement in Article 9, Section 17 that specifically says the Treasury shall make no payment unless they receive an appropriation from the Legislature, and she can't circumvent the Legislature and circumvent the Constitution."

OK, Senator Bishop. You got it. The Legislature would own any shutdown that occurs from failure to appropriate funding for the government. Thank you for finally admitting that it is ultimately your responsibility.

But, it's debatable whether or not a governor could in effect seize assets to keep the government running as a public safety issue. The beautiful thing about having gone through this same thing in 2007 is that these questions have all come up before, and the answer then was, no one is really sure what would happen if the governor decided to proclaim a "state of emergency", a very drastic action that I really doubt she would attempt. From 2007:

While Granholm insists she would not allow the Legislature to force a shutdown by inaction, she also declined to say how she would prevent closing up the state and officials say its unclear whether the governors emergency powers would authorize her to spend money without legislative OK.

It would be one great big constitutional mess, so let's just back away from it right now, OK? The governor's office did back away from it when questioned later, but Bishop's defensiveness in his zeal to be the tough guy was an indication that he just wants to take this to a fight. Granholm was only indicating that there is a cash flow to the coffers from the stimulus, even if it could only be applied to specific areas of spending as outlined by Congress, but the fact that Bishop automatically said "No!" to possible avoidance of a shutdown shows that he has no intention of finding compromise here.

Chatter in the Lansing rags has "Republicans" (meaning Bishop) accusing Granholm of wanting a shutdown. The response?

"It is utterly preposterous to say that I want to shut down government - utterly preposterous."

Perhaps it is time to remind those with short memories just who it was that said a shutdown in 2007 would have been a good thing. Hint: it wasn't the governor. Oct 7th, 2007:

Still, in hindsight, Bishop said he wonders whether it might have been better for Michigan to raise the stakes by allowing the government shutdown to proceed.

In the final hours before the midnight Sunday deadline arrived, Bishop said many of his Republican colleagues were concerned a shutdown would cause irreparable harm to the state's reputation -- nationally and internationally -- branding Michigan as dysfunctional.

"If all I was representing was myself I probably would have leaned in that direction," Bishop said.

Something to keep in mind. Maybe next time Bishop accuses the governor on motive, some smart reporter will remind him of that statement. As we get closer to the deadline, I know I will use it frequently.