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Tue February 17, 2009
Locals fear political fights could cost Michigan money
By Rick Pluta, Michigan Public Radio Network
Lansing, MI – Lansing, MI (MPRN) -- Michigan can expect about $18 billion from the economic recovery bill signed today by President Obama. Some of it will be in the form of tax breaks. Some of it will be funding for public works projects that will create jobs. State and local officials say they're anxious to put the money to work as soon as possible. And they hope that won't be delayed by fights over who controls the money.
Governor Jennifer Granholm has said there will be a role for the legislature in deciding how some of the stimulus package money is spent.
But state Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop says lawmakers should have some say in how all of it is spent.
"The legislature has got a key role," said Bishop. "It's our appropriations process, all that stimulus money has got to go through the appropriations process."
Bishop, a Republican, says it will be up to the legislature, not the governor, to ensure the money earmarked for specific purposes - such as schools or transportation - gets used as intended.
Bishop says Republicans in the Legislature also have some ideas on how the discretionary money should be used.
"If we're going to use federal stimulus money, we'd like to see some of that going to the future of our state, whether that's paying down debt," said Bishop. "We've got significant debt in this state, or, in fact, maybe we will stimulate the economy the best way we can, which is to put money in the taxpayers' pockets, and find a ways to create some tax savings in the process."
Bishop says reducing the size of the Michigan Business Tax is high on his "wish list." Republicans are particularly keen on scrapping the additional charge that was tacked on to the business tax a couple years ago to replace a short-lived, politically unpopular tax on services.
Local governments, universities, community colleges, school districts, and community cultural organizations have been compiling their own wish lists of projects that could be financed with the stimulus money. They include road and bridge repairs, sewer improvements, environmental cleanups, and energy conservation projects. Businesses and higher education institutions are hoping for alternative energy research and development money.
The fear is that some or all of that funding could be jeopardized if there's a stalemate that pits Senate Republicans against a Democratic governor, and a Democratic majority in the state House.
"I can tell you the governor doesn't want that," said Democratic House Speaker Andy Dillon. "The House doesn't want that. If this is supposed to be stimulus, then let's do it."
Dillon has formed work groups in the House to look at the different ways the stimulus money can be spent to benefit K-12 schools, for example, or alternative energy research.
Two years ago, state government shut down for five hours after Democrats and Republicans deadlocked on a budget deal in the final hours of the fiscal year. Last year, a political stalemate almost caused Michigan to miss out on millions of dollars in funds to repair and improve airports.
Dillon says he hopes history does not repeat itself.
"I don't see the benefit of us waiting and waiting, like last year we missed a whole construction season because we waited, and construction season was over so...I hope that doesn't happen this time," said Dillon.