MAGE Legislative Report: July 2021
Governor Whitmer lifted COVID-19 restrictions for all locations other than health care facilities on June 22. While there are still concerns about the growing spread of the Delta-variant which is more contagious and possibly more damaging to health, for the time being at least things are returning to normal in Michigan. Many state workers who have been working from home will begin to return to in-person work on July 12. However, many departments will be phasing in the return to work plans with some workers not expected to be back to in-person work until September.
In Lansing, the Michigan Legislature continues to work on the Fiscal Year 2022 budget that would begin on October 1, 2021. With the July 1 self-imposed deadline to pass a budget rapidly approaching, the House and Senate have scheduled June 30 for one last session day to complete the work. Discussions on the over $6 billion in federal funds the State of Michigan received from the American Rescue Plan Act have also been ongoing. It is likely that work on allocating those federal dollars will continue over the summer.
More on these issues below.
FY ’22 Budget will be Completed Piecemeal
In the first two years of the Whitmer administration, the Michigan Legislature has waited until very close to the September 30 deadline to present the governor with a budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The first year, work was delayed due to arguments over whether or not to increase the gas tax to fund road construction. Last year, the budget process, along with everything else, was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to emphasize the importance of an earlier completion of the budget process, the Legislature enacted a requirement that they complete the process no later than July 1. There are no penalties or restrictions placed upon them if they miss this deadline, other than the political embarrassment that comes with missing a self-imposed deadline.
The complexities surrounding the FY ’22 budget were stickier than most years, since the Legislature was intent on using the budget process to impact Governor Whitmer’s executive powers regarding the pandemic. For example, initial versions of most budget bills from the Michigan House sought to create a quarterly budget process that would have required the Executive Branch to come back to the Legislature every three months for supplemental appropriations. While nothing quite so drastic was placed into Michigan Senate’s budget bills, there remained a desire from legislative leaders to negotiate a lessening of the Governor’s authority (specifically, the authority of the Department of Health and Human Services) to issue pandemic-related orders.
As the pandemic has waned over the last six weeks, the intensity of the discussions surrounding the budget had also diminished. The House and Senate have focused the bulk of their efforts of the last few weeks on completing the School Aid budgets by the end of June to match the July 1 fiscal year start of most educational institutions. Departmental budgets were seen as a lower priority, although there had still been a possibility that a partial FY ’22 budget could be completed by July 1.
The Legislature was able to complete the School Aid Budget for the 2021-2 fiscal year before the July 1 deadline. However, they were not able to reach agreement before that deadline on departmental budgets. The budget debate will continue over the summer for state agencies and local governments. Moreover, the Legislature and Governor are still discussing how to spend over $6 billion in federal revenues from the CARES and ARP Acts. The deadline for the use of the bulk of those funds is not until 2024, so those talks might well drag past the next fiscal year.
State Offices Reopening on July 12
Since the beginning of the pandemic, many state workers in agencies where it was possible have been working from home. For most of those individuals, a return to in-person work has been scheduled for July 12. However, many departments are looking at a continuation of at least some level of remote work.
Each department and agency seems to be taking their own approach to remote work. There is no statewide policy as of yet, and so individual department heads and managers will be determining their own rules on working from home. There will likely, therefore, be a large variation between departments and even within departments on how remote or in-person work will be managed.