Adopt Exec. Order Cutting $337.4 M
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LAWMAKERS RELUCTANTLY ADOPT EXECUTIVE ORDER
CUTTING $337.4 MILLION
The lights almost went out Thursday on Governor John Engler's
$463 million budget-cutting plan, literally as well as
figuratively. But by the end of the day, lawmakers found a way
to soften the budgetary blow and narrowly approved the $337.4
million executive order, leaving for later approval the rest
of the plan contained in a supplemental and a change in state
It took two votes of the Senate Appropriations Committee
before the proposal was approved that officials hoped would
keep the remainder of the 2002-03 fiscal year in financial
check. A big item to winning approval was finding an extra $11
million out of the Michigan Merit Scholarship to reduce the
overall cut to the state's universities from 2.5 percent to 2
percent-although the House later altered that provision by
tying the money to passage of a separate bill changing the way
university boards are elected.
The House Appropriations Committee had earlier given its OK to
the executive order, and as was the case in the later Senate
vote, it drew no support from Democrats.
But everyone-from Budget Director Don Gilmer to all the
lawmakers-recognized that the task of approving the executive
order was a warm-up to the major exercise of keeping the
2003-04 budget in trim. A variety of officials have warned
that the budget, the first of Governor-elect Jennifer
Granholm, could be as much as $1.8 billion in the hole.
"We pricked our fingers today for a little draw of blood,"
said Sen. Joe Schwarz (R-Battle Creek). "Next year is going to
be an evisceration; it's going to be a blood-letting."
But the day was hardly a finger-pricking given the exercise
lawmakers went through before the executive order was
approved. During the process, lawmakers hinted they would vote
to delay the next stage of the income tax rollback, even
though they were told by Mr. Engler he would not support such
a move. The House actually put an income tax delay bill up for
a vote, where it crashed when nearly half the chamber did not
vote on the measure.
And it all started when the lights went out. Shortly before
the two appropriations committees began their joint meeting in
the third floor House Appropriations Committee, a fuse blew
and threw the packed room into darkness. The lights stayed off
for the entire meeting with the only light coming from the
windows. Mr. Gilmer joked that the situation demonstrated how
bad Michigan's budget really was.
Mr. Engler was very pleased with the Legislature's action, a
spokesperson said. "This is a plan that as much as we could
fairly spread out the reductions," Susan Shafer said in noting
that revenue sharing and higher education were included in the
mix of cuts for the first time. "When you look at the plan, it
reduces all state spending."
Ms. Granholm is pleased that the governor and Legislature are
stepping up to deal with the budget but remains concerned
about the one-time changes that are part of the solution, a
spokesperson for the transition office said.
"While we're pleased on the one hand, we're painfully well
aware that a mess is still being left," said Chris De Witt.
"They (the legislators) knew they had a responsibility to deal
with it as best they could."
He said Ms. Granholm did not discuss a preferred approach she
wanted, and in general believes that the budget situation is
at least partially being addressed. "With the situation that
Governor-elect Granholm is going to inherit, there will be
cuts when she takes over. This budget story is far from over,"
Mr. De Witt said.
Local government groups, which earlier this year successfully
won an override of an Engler veto of all statutory revenue
sharing, had expected far deeper cuts based on signals that
they had heard over the past few weeks and greeted the 3.5
percent cut they will bear with a measure of some relief. They
also said, however, that the cuts, coming with the
governments' fiscal years already half over, will mean
cutbacks in services that are felt first by residents.
Tim McGuire, executive director of the Michigan Association
Counties, said the cuts will hurt but accepted them as
proportionately fair. "We thought we were going to get a
little bit more of a whack on revenue sharing, so we are
pleased from fact that everybody has had to bite the bullet,"
he said. "There wasn't anybody that didn't get something
somewhere, and as long as we were not singled out, we are
comfortable with the order."
Mr. McGuire said counties will have to review the services
they provide, will likely have to cut positions and, like the
state, spread cuts across all aspects.
Don Stypula of the Michigan Municipal League said even though
the reductions are not as drastic as feared, "they are still
going to be a significant cut for local units that are already
struggling to provide the kind of services people rely upon."
He said a lot of communities had already scaled back travel,
curbed spending and postponed filling vacancies in
anticipation of the move by the state.
With the deeper budget problems looming in the 2003-04 year,
Mr. Stypula added, "It makes you wonder where is it going to
end. There is going to be a significant impact on local
Dave Bertram of the Michigan Townships Association said some
of his members will undoubtedly have to lay off employees and
cut the services they provide. He expressed appreciation for
lawmakers who held out for a smaller cut than had been under
discussion. "In many communities, the main money from revenue
sharing is spent on essential safety services like fire
protection and ambulances. It's very difficult to deal with
these cuts," he said.
But Rich Studley, vice president for government relations for
the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said the state's spending
habit has to be curbed and governments at both the state and
local levels are only doing what the private sector has
already done in much greater measure to deal with the
He noted businesses lost about $100 million in promised cuts
in the business tax as a result of the diminishing Budget
Stabilization Fund, and many companies have already had to cut
their spending by 5 percent to 15 percent.
"We supported the executive order and we're very pleased to
see it approved and even more encouraged that the state House
rejected a bill to raise the state income tax so hopefully
that will put to an end talk of raising taxes to solve the
budget," Mr. Studley said. "This is just a down payment or an
installment on what we see of a necessary downsizing of state
He said total state spending has increased at three times the
rate of inflation over the past decade, so it is clear
government has a spending problem. He also said he is not
ready to give up on the 2003-04 budget being helped by a
But Mr. Studley said the upcoming budget crunch should lead to
a re-examination of how universities function, particularly in
duplicative programs, and that some aspects of school aid need
to be put on the table for cuts, such as aid given for
specific program categories that have gradually been
re-introduced since the passage of school finance reform. "We
would not argue that in the future that the entire school aid
fund should be exempt from cuts," he said, adding that the
Chamber would continue to defend the property tax cuts of
Proposal A and its per pupil grant guarantees.
The total budget-cutting plan presented by Mr. Gilmer amounted
to $462.9 million. The largest share of that was the nearly
$337.4 million cut in Executive Order 2002-22.
Another $63.7 million, which includes cuts in the Legislature
and Judiciary budgets, was included in a supplemental budget,
HB 5705, approved by the Senate on a vote of 35-0 and by the
House 66-30. In addition the tie to the university board bill,
the House also added $2.5 million for a new Detroit crime lab.
Another $58.2 million will come from the retiree health
benefit prefunding program, which Mr. Gilmer said should have
no affect on the health care costs of current and future state
But union officials argued the move was technically taking
funds from the state employee retirement fund. The health
benefit prefunding came largely from excesses in the
retirement fund being shifted to pay for health insurance.
Alan Kilar, legislative liaison for UAW Local 6000, said the
funds should be used, as they were in previous
administrations, to increase retiree benefits and that health
benefits should be funded, as they were, with general fund
moneys. "He looted it (when he first took office) and he did
it again," he said. "He's basically stealing that money from
The largest single part of the executive order cuts is $107.4
million in departmental reductions. The cuts averaged 2.5
percent in all departments, except for a 1.5 percent cut in
the State Police, amounting to $4.3 million, and 1 percent
cuts for the departments of Corrections, $16 million; the
Department of Human Services, $8 million; and Military and
Veterans Affairs, $400,800. The Michigan Strategic Fund was
cut by 6.7 percent, $3 million.
The largest departmental cut was in Community Health, slashed
Because the departments of Transportation and Information
Technology have no general funds, they were not affected by
the executive order.
After the departments, the next largest cuts were $53 million
each in revenue sharing and to the state's universities and
community colleges. The revenue sharing cut equaled 3.5
percent of the total and the universities cut amounted to 2.5
percent. In addition, another $9.9 million was cut from
revenue sharing in hold harmless payments.
But several Senate members, especially Mr. Schwarz, balked at
the university cuts, arguing they would force either tuition
increases or significant programmatic cuts.
After the Senate Appropriations Committee initially rejected
the executive order, discussions generated an agreement to
move an additional $11 million out of the state's Merit
Scholarship fund to the universities. The money was included
in the supplemental budget.
With a net cut of no more than 2 percent for the universities,
Mr. Schwarz said he could support the executive order.
Officials with two universities, Central Michigan University
and Grand Valley State University, said their schools had
decided they could weather the cuts without resorting to an
additional tuition increase.
Glenn Stevens, executive director of the Presidents Council
State Universities of Michigan, asked if he was comfortable
with the cuts, said, "2.5 percent is better than 3.5 percent.
Would less be more desirable? Of course."
Mr. Stevens said the cuts put pressure on tuition levels. "Any
reduction in the state level of support puts pressure on
tuition," he said.
However, the arrangement-coming after the House Appropriations
Committee approved the executive order-might engender some
anger from House members who were more concerned about revenue
Also in the administration's plan is a $50 million cut in the
Merit Scholarships by splitting the awards over two years. The
House overwhelmingly passed a bill to achieve that aspect of
the plan later in the day. Another $30 million was drawn from
the bottle deposit for environmental bond debt service, and
another $10 million from the environmental cleanup fund
balance also to cover bond debt service.
There was another $11.6 million coming from a freeze in home
and community based waiver enrollments.
Another $7.4 million was scheduled to come from cuts in fire
protection grants to communities with state-owned property.
However, Sen. Leon Stille (R-Spring Lake) said that cut should
be pared back to help those communities.
Finally, the executive order also gets $5 million in increases
from third party recoveries in the FIA and converts the
state's maternal outpatient medical service program to a
federal program, saving $2.9 million.
In the supplemental, the state takes $27 million in a
temporary aid to need families shift to the general fund,
transfers $24 million from the Healthy Michigan Fund to the
general fund and transfers $7.8 million in an unreserved
balance in the waterways fund to the general fund.
As Mr. Gilmer finished his presentation of the budget-cutting
proposal, initially it seemed there might be an earnest
attempt to freeze the next rollback in the state's income tax
cut-which could save the state better than $100 million.
Mr. Gilmer insisted a freeze on the rollback was an issue for
the 2003-04 budget and not the current budget.
But Sen. Alma Smith (D-Salem Township) said the budget is in
deficit largely because of the tax cuts the state had enacted.
The Democrats were prepared to vote for a delay in the
rollback, she said.
And Mr. Schwarz said the small amount the average taxpayer
would save with the rollback-about $25-would not recompense
them if they had to pay more in tuition for their children or
for local services.
"Boy, you can sure as hell tell it's not an election year,"
snapped Sen. Shirley Johnson (R-Royal Oak) in opposing the
proposal. "Anyone who suggests that $25 or $28 doesn't mean
diddly-squat has never lived dollar to dollar."
While it appeared there may be an effort to hold back the tax
rollback, opponents to that plan quickly got to work. Senate
Republicans went into a caucus where they were joined by Mr.
Engler, and it was apparent the only caucus members willing to
back the freeze were Mr. Schwarz and Committee Chair Harry
Gast (R-St. Joseph).
Mr. Engler took a dim view of a halt in the income tax cut,
saying doing so would compromise the state's competitiveness.
"One of the reasons our unemployment rate is below the
national average is because we've worked hard to make Michigan
more competitive," he told reporters.
The governor said his plan was fair and would put the state in
a sound position.
"We've finished '02 with a balanced budget and the carry
forward is helping us with the '03 budget and that combined
with the executive order today put Michigan on a firm fiscal
footing," he said. "This was a reasonable and fair plan."
As for the prospect of the stabilization fund falling to $0,
Mr. Engler said it had served its purpose for tough times.
"It's a rainy day fund, and it's been raining," he said. "It
will need to be rebuilt, but that's what you do when times are
When the Senate Appropriations Committee initially rejected
the executive order, Mr. Schwarz told reporters that there
would be an executive order approved because, frankly, there
was no interest in freezing the income tax rollback.
After the Senate Appropriations Committee defeated the
executive order, the House Appropriations Committee quickly
approved it on a 16-11 vote mostly along party lines. Only
Republican Reps. Laura Toy of Livonia and Jerry Vander Roest
of Galesburg broke from majority GOP ranks as Ms. Toy voted
"no" and Mr. Vander Roest decided not to vote.
Ms. Toy said higher education should have borne more of the
pain to ease the burden on revenue sharing and local
governments. "I thought we could get the percentage down even
further," she said of the 3.5 percent cut in revenue sharing.
"They've already taken a hit. Ultimately, I don't want to see
cities go to millages and go to tax increases."
But Rep. Scott Shackleton (R-Sault Ste. Marie) said the
restrained cuts in revenue sharing made it possible to support
the package of cuts. "There's parts that I find painful and
very close to intolerable," he said. "I will vote 'yes' on the
EO in recognition that the revenue sharing cuts are at three
and a half percent."
Said Rep. Marc Shulman (R-West Bloomfield), the House
Appropriations chair: "It's not easy, but this is an
opportunity again to exercise fiscal discipline."
But Rep. A.T. Frank (D-Saginaw Township), the ranking
committee Democrat, said the budget fix still relied too
heavily on one-time revenue sources that would put more
pressure on the 2003-04 fiscal year.
"The structural deficit is huge," he said. "I don't think
they're doing enough to balance the budget."
Rep. Mickey Switalski (D-Roseville) also criticized the use of
one-time revenues. "These are one-time sources," he said. "So
those of us that are here next year will be feeling the pain."
During the morning Rep. Mike Pumford (R-Newaygo) and Rep.
Charlie LaSata (R-St. Joseph) suggested the votes might exist
in the House to block the income tax cut scheduled for January
1. After the Senate Appropriations Committee defeated Mr.
Engler's plan because some of its top Republican members
preferred halting the tax cut, House Speaker Rick Johnson (R-LeRoy)
decided to send the message that the House would oppose that
Mr. Johnson called for a vote in the full House on a bill that
would have allowed the 2003 reduction in the income tax cut to
take place, but blocked the cut scheduled for 2004. The bill
was crushed with only 10 votes in favor and 58 against. Only
two Republicans supported it-Mr. Pumford and Rep. Pan Godchaux
(R-Birmingham). Mr. LaSata and Rep. Ron Jelinek (R-Three Oaks)
decided not to vote.
Although eight Democrats did support the bill, the vast
majority deliberately did not vote.
Rep. Nancy Cassis (R-Novi) said halting the tax rollback would
break a promise to taxpayers expecting the rate to drop from
4.1 to 4 percent on January 1 and from 4 percent to 3.9
percent in 2004. "Suspending the rollback on the income tax
sends the wrong message to working families," she said.
In the end, Mr. Gast was the only Republican on the committee
to vote against the executive order, approved on a 9-6 vote.
Saying he was personally and "morally convinced" the freeze
was the right thing, Mr. Gast said policymakers will have no
choice but to freeze the rollback before the 2003-04 budget
because otherwise it will be impossible to maintain any level
of essential services.
Tom Clay, analyst for the Citizens Research Council, who has
projected a $1.8 billion deficit in the 2003-04 year even with
no increased spending for things like education, said the
executive order is a beginning to solving the situation at
hand but there are "far worse" actions to come. "These cuts
are very small in comparison to what is needed in '04 if a
majority of that problem is going to be dealt with by cuts,"
Mr. Clay also said from a budget standpoint it would have been
preferable to have more cuts be of a permanent nature rather
than one-time actions, but added, "it's understandable that
they did not want to pull the rug out from agencies,
universities, community colleges and local governments any
more than they have."
Medicaid and mental health programs would see some of the
largest cuts under the Engler administration's proposed
solution for fulfilling the executive order cuts approved
Thursday by the Legislature.
In Medicaid, long-term care, hospital services and therapy and
Medicaid mental health services all would see sharp cuts,
according to a copy of the proposed transfers obtained by
Gongwer News Service.
Some of the larger proposed cuts:
$7.02 million to hospital services and therapy
$3.72 million to health maintenance organizations
$4.31 million to long-term care
$2.42 million for Medicaid mental health services
$2 million for respite services in Community Mental Health
LICENSE PLATES FOR
LICENSE PLATE: Legislation approving a new specialty license
plate to raise money for educational programs was approved on
a 32-2 vote.
However, the Senate did not act on legislation that would
create a specialty plate for the Ducks Unlimited organization
and a "choose life" plate.
An effort to specify that any monies raised by the plate's
sale should go to public education failed to win a majority of
the elected and serving members, though a majority on the
floor voted for the proposal.
Voting against SB 614 were Sens. Joanne Emmons (R-Big Rapids)
and Bev Hammerstrom (R-Temperance), who said the provision
will "open the floodgates" of requests for specialty plates
for private fundraising efforts. They also said the proposal
would rob money from the Children's Trust Fund, which already
has a specialty plate raising funds to deal with child abuse.
MEASURE PASSES SENATE - THOUGHT TO BE AN ATTEMPT TO SLOW
Legislators would have more time to review and rule on
proposed administrative rules under SB 1507 passed by the
Senate on a 33-0 vote.
But the measure was amended so that lawmakers would have a
little less time than originally planned to review the rules.
As originally introduced the legislation would give lawmakers
90 days to review and pass on administrative rules. Currently,
the Legislature has 21 days to pass on administrative rules.
The Senate amended the measure to cut that time frame down to
Governor John Engler has expressed reservations about the
bill, saying it is an intrusion into executive authority. And
while the measure passed unanimously,
some critics charged lawmakers passed it solely because of the
incoming administration of Governor-elect Jennifer Granholm.
ANNOUNCES NEW ENROLLMENT PERIOD
Families in the state will be able to purchase Michigan
Education Trust contracts between January 2 and August 30, the
MET Board announced Thursday. The board also announced 10
percent price increases for the new contracts.
A one-year Full Benefits contract, which covers all tuition
and fees up to 30 credit hours at a Michigan public
university, will run $6,063. A Limited Benefits contract,
which pays up to 105 percent of the average tuition and fees
at a Michigan public university, will cost $4,884. And a
Community College contract, which covers in-district tuition
at any community college, will cost $1,730, a 5.3 percent
increase over a 2002 contract.