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Budget negotiations drag into another day

By Rick Pluta, Michigan Public Radio Network


LANSING, MI – There was little progress made on breaking the budget deadlock Thursday at the state Capitol as lawmakers prepare to meet into the night.

The session is expected to drag into Friday and maybe into the weekend as legislative leaders try to round up votes for big, painful budget cuts.

There's something for everyone to hate. The budget for K-12 schools would trim the state's per-student financial aid by $218, and big cuts to intermediate school districts. The higher education budget would eliminate the Michigan Promise college scholarship and other types of financial aid. Big cuts on tap to Medicaid could force some clinics and nursing homes to close.

Democratic House Speaker Andy Dillon acknowledged it's a tough job to get legislators to vote for cuts totaling $1.2 billion.

"I think people are recognizing some of these cuts are too deep," he says.

It's also tough to get lawmakers to support new taxes. But Dillon says he thinks Republicans - including some across the Rotunda in the state Senate - are starting to come around to the idea that new revenue is needed.

"I think from what I'm hearing, a lot of senators are nervous with the magnitude of the cuts, so I think we're going to find a good, fair, comparable solution that works for everybody," he adds.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop says GOP lawmakers are not ready to cave on the question of raising taxes.

"I certainly hope he's not talking about revenues now because that was not part of our agreement," he says.

He's still committed to cutting the budget by $1.2 billion and using federal stimulus money to backfill the rest of a $2.8 billion deficit. He says any talk of tax increases is premature, and the Senate won't vote on budgets until they've all been approved by the House with no expectations of additional revenue.

"But if I don't see it, then we've got nothing to do, we're sitting here with no reason again, so a little frustration right now, but I still believe we can hit these targets," he added.

Representative Fred Durhal chairs the House budget subcommittee that includes state aid for cities, townships, and counties.

"Those cuts are just too high," he says. "They're damaging. Can you imagine what will happen? You have 20 cities right now that are on the list to go belly up because they don't have the cash money to do what's needed to be done to keep fire, police, and the administrations in those cities going."

Durhal and other Democrats who want to mitigate cuts with more revenue are getting backing from Governor Granholm. She made a brief appearance on the House floor to lend her support.

"You know, the ball's obviously in the Legislature's court at this point, and they're working very hard to get it across the line before the budget deadline," she commented. "I'm trying do everything I can to help them."

Granholm has called for new taxes on beer, tobacco, bottled water, soda pop, and live entertainment. She says that would help rescue college scholarships, pre-school and K-12 education, Medicaid, and money for local police and fire services from deep cuts.

"We know that there are going to be big cuts, so people need to be prepared for cuts. I'd like to see some softening of the worst cuts because some of the worst cuts would be dangerous for Michigan residents."

The governor says she remains confident there won't be a shutdown a week from today, and lawmakers should be able to finish their work before that deadline. She expressed similar confidence in 2007 before that year's budget deadlock forced a pre-dawn shutdown that lasted several hours.

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