Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Deals Made, Deals Broken, and Tales of Courage from Yesterday's Budget Battle

No one could have foreseen...

Matt Marsden, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Michael Bishop, R-Rochester, called the House approach on tax bills "a joke," adding: "What do they possibly expect us to do with them?"

This came after House Democrats passed revenue measures last night that are aimed at restoring a minimal amount of funding to keep public safety, health care, and education at least semi-intact in our state. Some of the bills are pretty innocuous; allowing a permit for bars to stay open to 4 AM, another that lifts the prohibition on Sunday morning alcohol sales, and doubling the state tax on cigars and roll your own tobacco, but not touching the per-pack cigarette tax. Those measures raise just under $60 million - or, half way to saving the Promise Scholarship right there.

The other revenues have more teeth, but are really no-brainers. The 3% levy on physicians, which took an hour to pass last night, would raise an estimated $300 million - but would also bring us to $822 million in federal matching funds. Physicians who see Medicaid patients are estimated to get $716 million back through higher reimbursements, and this is the revenue that would mitigate the severe cuts to nursing homes. Other measures call for freezes on income tax exemptions, meaning that you still would receive what you are currently getting now. The personal state exemption was supposed to go from $3,500 to $3,600 for inflation; that would stay the same. The EITC was supposed to go from a 10% to a 20% credit, instead it would be 12.5% - giving low-income workers at least a little bump.

The one that is most problematic is the 15% trim to as of now unspecified MBT tax credits for $115 million - and this is the one, along with the income tax freezes, that they are targeting for the bulk of the Promise Scholarship and revenue sharing funding. But, given Marsden's statement calling all this "a joke", it appears that this work just might go for naught as the Senate Republicans are simply going to revert right back to being the "Party of No!" as they seek to gum up the works and drag this out to the end of the month.

Need proof? A couple of deals made, and those deals are now broken. While there hasn't been any final determination one way or the other on taking up these revenue votes in the Senate (besides Marsden's general and predictable noise), some clues have emerged that show exactly how the Republicans are going to handle this - they go back on their word. Maybe Dillon should start asking for "signed agreements" on everything from here on out.

First, the budgets the Republicans are holding in the Senate. Turns out that Senate Democrats gave immediate effect last week on these budgets with the understanding that they would be sent on to the governor. That is the way this works: The Legislature passes their budgets, the governor gets to review them after lawmakers have completed their job. Mike Bishop not only broke the deal made on immediate effect; he is trying to change the rules on the entire process of state government.

We have given these bills immediate effect reluctantly, but it was with the understanding that once we did so and once the budgets were passed, they would be transmitted to the Governor for her constitutional duty to review and to sign the aforementioned legislation. I am very curious as to why the majority party maintains these bills and holds them in control of the State Senate when, obviously, through statements, you have indicated that you are very proud of the work you have done.

The all-cuts budget that you have put forward is something that you stand behind and is something that you take a great deal of pride in. If you have a great deal of pride in them, if you are indeed satisfied with the work you have done on these budgets, I fail to understand the rationale in leaving these budgets in the Senate and not transmitting them to the Governor for further action.

Bishop wants the governor to tell him first what she is going to do, before he turns in the budgets. Right. Sounds like a plan. Let's tip our hand so the Republicans can screw it up - that's the playbook on the Bishop-Dillon deal, apparently. Besides the fact that Governor Granholm can't say for sure what she is going to do without having the actual budget on her desk, she is not as stupid as Andy Dillon when it comes to thinking that the Republicans are going to act in anyone's best interests here. To tell Bishop beforehand is simply absurd, and definitely not protocol.

The Bishop-Dillon "signed agreement" was that they would pass these budgets with all cuts, and turn them in. The Legislature has not finished the budgets (K-12 is still out there), and they have not turned the contentious ones in. Deal broken.

That took a matter of days. Yesterday, it seems that an announced deal on a K-12 continuation budget was broken in a matter of hours. Dillon proclaimed that they had an agreement - but Senate Republicans changed their mind and offered up more excuses as to why they are going to force school districts to go without their federal funding for awhile.

House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township, said earlier today the House and Senate have reached a deal on continuation funding for K-12 that could mean a reduction in the $218 per student cut approved in conference committee.

But Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, said the Senate isn't ready to vote on a temporary school aid spending plan because a permanent solution is close at hand.

So why did Dillon announce that deal? Is Bishop just trying to make him look bad? Or vice versa? Gongwer reports that Jelinek held it up in committee - and no one will release the details of that latest "agreement" that went south, but it is obvious that even Republicans can't swallow the $218 per pupil K-12 cuts and are looking to restore some funding, whether it be through stimulus or something else, no one knows at this point.

Dillon has put his entire caucus in a tight spot as he keeps making these "deals" that don't appear to carry any weight with Mike Bishop and the Republicans. Matter of fact, according to MIRS, the House GOP already issued an internal memo slamming Dillon for breaking his part of the "deal". So, the House Democrats who are making the tough votes here are to be commended for their courage; not only were they asked to take votes on horrible cuts that could be used against them, they are now standing up for revenue, which also could be used against them - all thanks to Andy Dillon. Governor Granholm met with House Democrats briefly yesterday, and Gongwer reports that she received cheers from the crowd. No idea what she said, but the hope is that those Dems will take it to heart and stand up for education, public safety and health care for Michigan. They are doing the right thing.

In honor of that, instead of naming the Democrats who abandoned the caucus this morning, let's give a special cheer of thanks for five incredible legislators instead - Rep. Daniel Scripps (D-Leland), Rep. Lee Gonzales (D-Flint), Rep. Jimmy Womack (D-Detroit) and Rep. Marc Corriveau (D-Northville), who took one for the team on the Medicaid vote. And a very, very heartfelt thank you goes out to Rep. Doug Bennett (D-Muskegon) who is currently recovering from a brain hemorrhage. MIRS reports that he had his son drive him down to Lansing to vote in this session, and he won't be available for the rest of the week. THAT is the stuff that true character is made of - the rest of you, take note.

Those are the kind of Democrats we need in office; people who are willing to make personal sacrifices to stand up for both their constituents and their colleagues, instead of those who would risk other members jobs and even their very health simply to advance their aspirations for higher office. We call those people Republicans, and they have no place in Democratic leadership.

Perhaps the House should think about that, acting accordingly after this battle is over.