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Legislature to vote on budget cuts, defers talks on revenue

WKAR photo.
Michigan State Capitol, Lansing.

By Rick Pluta, Michigan Public Radio Network


LANSING, MI – It's turning into a long day for lawmakers at the state Capitol. They're working toward finalizing a budget that includes big cuts to local governments, nursing homes and hospitals, and college scholarships. The Legislature is facing a deadline of Wednesday night to get a complete set of budget bills to Governor Granholm's desk.

Lawmakers have been here since mid-morning. Dozens of pizzas were delivered earlier today. And bags of chips and cookies are piled on a table in a backroom behind the state House chamber.

Mostly lawmakers have been waiting around while legislative leaders try to line up votes for big budget cuts. There was a vote on a Department of Education budget that reduces money for local libraries.

The revenue sharing budget is lined up for a final vote. It cuts state payments to local governments by 11%. That's too much for state Representative Fred Durhal of Detroit, who chairs the House local governments budget subcommittee. His city would lose about $35 million. He says the state is shifting its budget troubles onto cities and townships and contributing to their fiscal crisis.

"And that crisis will be local and more immediate to the general public than if we stand our ground and try to reduce this cut some more," he says. "But it doesn't look like we're going to be able to do that."

The revenue sharing reduction is just one of a long list of one billion-200 million dollars in spending rollbacks.

Todd Serby drove down to Lansing from Houghton Lake, where he's a therapist at an addiction treatment center for teens and young men who have run into trouble with the law. The proposed human services budget would eliminate funding for the state's only secure addiction treatment center, and Serby's here at the Capitol to plead for a reprieve.

"It's not a cost-saving move to shut this facility because they'd have to move these young men to another secure location, probably at a higher cost," he said.

Serby says he does not know what the center will do if its funding disappears Thursday morning.

"The kids are there," he went on. "You can't just say, OK, you're going home for the weekend. They have to be moved somewhere and it all has to go to each court and each judge directly to remove them from this facility. To say you're going to shut the doors on October one, it can't be done because there's no place to move them that quickly."

Serby is waiting to see how his facility fares when the human services budget is voted on later this evening. But the fact is there is no money. Tax revenues have fallen by nearly a quarter of what they were last year. Spending cuts will deal with about half of a 2 billion-800 million dollar shortfall. The rest will be backfilled with federal stimulus funds.

House Republican Leader Kevin Elsenheimer says that's forcing the Legislature to make touch but necessary choices.

"Lansing needs to learn within its means," he says. "It's happening across the state in board rooms, at dinner tables across the state. People are having to scale back in order to make ends meet. It's time Lansing did the same thing."

To win Republican support, House Democratic leaders opted for a strategy of agreeing to adopt big budget cuts now, and come later with plans for raising new revenue. That money could be used to restore cuts to Medicaid and local governments, and to resurrect the Michigan Promise college scholarship.

Representative Gary McDowell says that's a politically risky strategy that will require Democrats to recruit a handful of Republicans in the state Senate to support new revenues after the budgets have already been approved.

"I'm not very comfortable with that, but at this time I don't see that we have any option," he said.

McDowell chairs the budget subcommittee that covers Medicaid spending. He says the alternative to new taxes is closing psychiatric clinics, local health centers, and nursing homes.

"I'm confident that when the senators see the type of cuts that will have to make to this part of our population, they're going to do the right thing and stand up for these people that cannot leave this state. They've got no place else to go," he added.

McDowell says Democrats are relying on "a hope and prayer" by agreeing to big spending cuts today -- and then essentially going back and re-negotiating the budget in coming days and weeks.

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