February Legislative Report by Todd Tennis
The Governor unveiled his budget proposal on February 7, and House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees have been meeting nonstop since then. The Governor’s budget called for near-level funding for most state departments, though K-12 schools and road construction were singled out for larger increases. With roads and streets literally crumbling around the state, the Legislature has decided to jump start funding for road repairs by pushing through immediate spending of $175 million. There was debate on whether that number should be increased by an additional $275 million by taking more money out of the Budget Stabilization Fund, but in the end efforts to increase funding beyond $175 million failed.
While the attention of most legislators is fixed on the budget process, there has been time for other legislation to move as well. A bill that would abolish union leave time for public employees was introduced in the Senate and will have a hearing in early March. More on that issue below.
Governor’s Budget Proposal Calls for Relatively few Changes
Governor Snyder, alongside Lt. Governor Calley, presented his final budget proposal to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on February 7. The Governor outlined his strategic funding goals for his final year in office and there were no major surprises. Governor Snyder is proposing a larger than expected increase to the foundation allowance that goes to K-12 schools, and called for an acceleration of the use of the General Fund for roads and bridges.
Perhaps the largest surprise in the Governor’s proposal was the restoration of state employees to perform food service in the Department of Corrections. After years of problems with food quality and staffing issues, Governor Snyder is ready to abandon the privatization experiment for prison cafeterias. However, although the administration is ready to move on from the failed experiment, some leaders in the Legislature are not ready to concede yet. Senator Jon Proos (R-St. Joseph), the chair of the Senate Corrections Sub-Committee on Appropriations, made his objections to the plan clear when MDOC Director Heidi Washington came before his committee. Senator Proos stated that, although the Legislature cannot force the administration to continue contracting-out food service, they can use the power of the purse strings to “force the department’s hand.”
Another potentially difficult portion of the Governor’s proposal concerns continuation of the Clean Michigan Program in the Department of Environmental Quality. The program, which grants money to help clean up contaminated sites, has allocated nearly all of the $675 million bond that was the source of its revenue. Governor Snyder proposed increase fees on solid waste going into landfills (known as “tipping fees”) from $.36 per ton to $4.75 per ton in order to create a new source of revenue for the program. Early reaction from Legislators shows that this could be a very tough sell.
Below are highlights of the Governor’s proposal for each department:
Agriculture and Rural Development
- $780,000 in new money for Milk Safety and Quality Assurance.
- Elimination of one-time funding for MSU agriculture industry research and the Food Bank Council food freezing programs.
- $150,000 reduction in one-time funding for deaf/hard of hearing needs assessment.
- $13.6 million for the replacement of contracted food service staff with state employes. $9.7 million in one-time new custody staff training. $3.7 million for health care staff recruitment and retention.
- $18.9 million reduction due to the closure of the West Shoreline correctional facility. The Governor proposes to eliminate several other programs, including the Goodwill Flip the Script Program, the Certain Sanction Substance Abuse Parole Program, the Supervising Region Incentive Program, and the High School Online Equivalency Pilot.
- $73 million in new revenue from tipping fees to support the Clean Michigan Initiative.
- $14 million reduction of one-time funding for the Petroleum Product Cleanup Program.
- The bulk of changes in the DHHS budget are related to changes in caseload estimates. The proposal includes $1.4 million for state facility psychiatrist salary adjustments, and $1.6 million for an additional 15 FTEs for managed care rules staff.
Military and Veterans Affairs
- $61.3 million increase for indigent defense commission grants. A reduction of $3 million in medical marijuana grants to local law enforcement agencies.
Department of Natural Resources
- $5 million in new funds for special maintenance projects, and $750,000 for a “Northern Strike Exercise” at Camp Grayling. Also includes a reduction of $2.5 million in one-time armory maintenance spending.
Talent and Economic Development
- $1.5 million for additional conservation officers, and $3.5 million for forest development infrastructure. The Governor proposes to remove $5 million in one-time trail development funding, and $2.9 million in one-time funding for a land ownership tracking system.
Technology Management and Budget
- Remove $35.8 million in one-time Michigan Enhancement grants and $5.5 million for one-time “Going Pro” funding.
- Adds $1.5 million for regional prosperity grants. Removes several one-time grant projects such as the Michigan Infrastructure Fund, Drinking Water Emergency Fund, and Michigan.gov content management.
- $179 million for Transportation Fund increases, plus an additional $175 million in road funding from the General Fund. The budget accounts for $21 million in federal funding reductions.
Union Leave Time Under Attack…Again
- $7.1 million for medical marijuana grants and administration, plus $640,000 for staff and administration increases in the Michigan Lottery office.
Legislation that would ban union leave time for public employees was narrowly defeated last session, and it has been reintroduced in the Senate this year. Senate Bill 796, sponsored by Senator Marty Knollenberg (R-Troy), would prohibit clauses in collective bargaining contracts for public employees that allow for paid leave for union activities. The bill is mainly targeted at education unions, but is broad enough to affect nearly all public employees in Michigan.
Proponents of the bill argue that taxpayers should never pay for any kind of union activity. However, that position ignores the fact that a great deal of union leave time is spent on work that is beneficial to the employer. Union activities such as grievance hearings, labor-management committees and even contract negotiations are much more convenient to the employer when it is done during normal working hours. Passage of this law will not result in unions picking up the tab for lost work time. It will only force this type of work to be done after hours, often resulting in greater expense for the employer.
Sadly, that logic has consistently been ignored by supporters of the bill who seem to care more about weakening unions then promoting good working relationships between public employers and their employees. The bill was referred to the Senate Education Committee and is expected to be taken up for a hearing in early March.