Transparency still a major issue in Michigan Legislature
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer presented a $60.2 billion budget to the Legislature Tuesday that includes a .45 cent per gallon increase in the gas tax, which is projected to raise $2.5 billion a year for road repairs. Kathleen Gray, Detroit Free Press Lansing Bureau
It was Tuesday, March 5 that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed the state’s budget for Fiscal Year 2020 which begins on October 1. The LSJ Editorial Board at the time called the executive proposal – and the 45-cent fuel tax it includes – a “good opening salvo,” and “one that starts a much needed conversation.”
Problem is, there hasn’t been much conversation.
And no alternatives have been revealed by legislators in the nearly four months that have passed since the proposal was announced.
July 1 marks the beginning of the fiscal year used chiefly by schools and colleges to budget without interruption to the academic calendar.
It also will mark the first time in nearly a decade that Michigan’s state government has failed to pass a budget by this date.
Though the official deadline is September 30, by not passing the budget early this year state legislators are foreshadowing what’s to come.
Holding decisions until close to deadline fosters political gamesmanship, creates situations that are ripe for secrecy and subverts the public debate that is a hallmark of our democracy.
That’s simply unacceptable.
After signing the budget last year, then-Gov. Rick Snyder said, “I am proud of the budget I signed today, as well as the previous seven budgets. We have created a new culture and expectation here in Lansing of getting budgets done responsibly, thoughtfully and early.”
Where is that responsibility, thoughtfulness and timeliness now?
For the past 8 years, Republicans controlled the executive branch and both legislative bodies. Now that the Republican-controlled Legislature is forced to work with a Democratic governor, progress has stalled.
Why does it matter?
Without a state budget, schools can’t plan for a full academic year. Programs that rely on state support are forced to decide if they begin anyway without the promise of a budget or cancel for an entire year.
And beyond schools, there are critical issues Michigan faces that must be addressed in the budget: Road funding, veteran services, public safety and more.
What’s at stake?
Included in Gov. Whitmer’s proposal are a number of increases and decreases to address changing needs in the state. Some key examples:
A significant increase to the amount of money put toward road repairs and upkeep.
Possible elimination of the pension tax, to allow retired seniors to keep more of their annual income.
Overhaul of the state’s failed child welfare system that has come under fire for overloaded caseworkers, inaccurately tracking cases and an increase in the number of children dying each year while part of the system.
Funding to address a 700-person staffing shortfall and other issues in the Michigan Department of Corrections, illuminated in tense contract negotiations with union representatives last year.
Major updates in information technology systems that will improve processes for taxes, permitting, licensing, and more.
Each of great importance on their own, together these issues affect virtually everyone in the state.
Earlier this year, the legislature and Gov. Whitmer displayed a willingness to negotiate and compromise on auto insurance reforms – an issue that’s been debated for years without a solution.
That teamwork should serve as a blueprint for budget negotiations. It’s past time for legislative leaders to transparently issue their budgets so the real work can begin. It’s easy to criticize the governor’s plan – it’s harder to come up with an alternative.
The people of Michigan deserve a government that serves their interests and includes them in the democratic process. Dallying on the budget as July 1 rolls by and the September 30 deadline looms reflects poor leadership.
And it shows a willingness to put political interests above legislative ones.
Show us your proposed budgets, legislative leaders, and then come to the table to find workable solutions that put the interests of all Michiganders first.
— Battle Creek Enquirer