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Democrats say budget deal kicks off next phase of fight about Michigan future

By Rick Pluta, Michigan Public Radio Network

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wkar/local-wkar-970193.mp3

LANSING, MI – Governor Rick Snyder and legislative Republicans are expected to wrap up work this week on the budget. If they succeed, they will meet the governor's target of finishing the budget four months ahead of the constitutional deadline. Democrats - in the minority in the House and the Senate - have some objections, but acknowledge they're unlikely to stop the GOP spending plan.

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Democrats expect to lose this week's budget battle. That won't stop them from calling for using a revenue windfall to make sure schools don't lose any money in the new budget. They will say GOP plans to use an unexpected surplus of tax revenue to only partially restore the cuts is not good enough. The money won't go directly into the state's per-pupil payment to districts. Instead, the state will use it as a one-time boost to help schools with pension costs and to reward districts that adopt measures meant to rein in employee costs.

But Democrats don't have the votes in the Legislature to stop the GOP plan.

"This is just the beginning," says House Democratic Leader Rick Hammel.

Hammel says this week will set up a debate about priorities that will carry on for the balance of this session of the Legislature.

"This budget may get done very obviously quickly - but that doesn't mean the fight or the argument will be over about what the future of this state is going to look like," Hammel says.

Public employee unions got into the act by commissioning a study that determined the state is top-heavy with managers compared to front-line workers, and spends more on outside vendors than it does on its state civil service workforce.

Phil Thompson of the Service Says Employees International Unions says labor will be offering its own blueprint for reform.

"We feel like we're trying to deliver 21st Century services to a 21st Century citizenry that needs it with a workplace model and classification system that was built 45 years ago," Thompson says.

And no one is losing sight of the fact there is an election next year.

Thousands of people showed up at a rally this past weekend at the state Capitol to protest Republican budget plans. The rally was organized by public employee unions. It was billed as a "Recall Snyder" rally, but reporter Rick Pluta didn't see recall petitions circulating.

There were clipboards on tables and circulated among the crowd to gather names, addresses, and e-mail addresses. That information will be added to a growing database of prospective donors and volunteers as the 2012 elections approach.

"We have not begun to fight!" says Michigan Education Association President Iris Salter.

Salter said people should not take this week's votes on the state budget as the close of the discussion - especially with state House members who face re-election campaigns next year.

"The fight doesn't end until November 6th, 2012! (cheers) We're going to show them what a true fight looks like."

Unions and Democrats say Republicans will have to answer for a budget that cuts schools and local governments, as they simultaneously cut taxes overall on businesses.

Republicans will frame the debate as being about making tough choices to set the state on the right path. This is what Governor Snyder had to say last week when he appeared with legislative Republican leaders to announce their budget deal.

"In terms of big moves, we're getting a lot done. With these two things, it really helps that foundation for job creation and job growth. We're really getting some of the most difficult things done.

Which could free up the governor and lawmakers to turn soon to other issues with less controversy and fewer political risks as next year's elections draw closer.

Also working for them: Republicans have a Michigan economy that's in the early stages of recovery. They're banking on job growth - especially among small and medium-sized businesses -- to serve as proof to voters that a big tax cut for businesses and cutting the state budget were good ideas.

To help strengthen our local reporting as WKAR's fiscal year ends, we need 75 new or upgraded sustainers by June 30th. Become a new monthly donor or increase your donation to support the trustworthy journalism you'll rely on before Election Day. Donate now.