A statutory July 1 deadline for the Legislature to present a FY 2021-22 budget to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is little more than a week away. Last year, this deadline had to be waived because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the fiscal uncertainty it fomented.
Now, however, Michigan’s budgetary wallet is bursting at the seams with federal coronavirus relief funds that some political observers believe should make agreeing on how to spend it a lot easier. Wait! Isn’t that so? Or could it be that all that extra money means there is more to argue over?
On Monday, the Michigan Information & Research Service (MIRS) newsletter asked a panel of political pundits what the chances are that a budget deal between the governor and Legislature will be reached this week. MIRS also wondered if, when it eventually comes to the actual casting of votes, a lot of Republican lawmakers might hope their Democratic colleagues could supply most of the support for next year’s budget because GOP legislators might be fearful that backing a budget dependent on ‘money from Washington’ could be used against them in a 2022 primary.
MIRS also asked about the post-COVID hangover aka “laid-off employees continuing to draw jobless benefits instead of returning to work.” How does that play out for each side of the aisle? In addition, MIRS asked about the “police reform” legislation upon which — according to some sources — Democrats and Republicans are as close to agreeing as Earth is to Pluto.
Here are the MIRS questions, as well as answers from Bill Ballenger, publisher of The Ballenger Report.
Q. What are the chances that the Whitmer administration and GOP-controlled Legislature reach an overall budget deal by the end of this week? Would you put those chances closest to 75% likely, 50% likely, 25% likely or virtually no chance at all?
A. Reach a deal before the July 1 statutory deadline for the Legislature to put a budget on the governor’s desk? Ain’t gonna happen. They’ll have to extend the deadline again, as they did last year. It’s even a long shot that they can get an agreement on specific pieces of the budget, like School Aid and revenue sharing. I’d say the odds on those may be a little better, like 25%, but that probably won’t happen, either. Hopefully, this will all be finalized by September 1.
Q. It’s believed that going along with ‘accepting federal dollars’ could be used against incumbent candidates in 2022 GOP primaries. Would that make it likely that department budgets end up passing with a majority of Republicans voting ‘no?’
A. It’s possible, as happened when, some eight years ago, then-Gov. Rick SNYDER struck a deal with GOP legislative leadership on Healthy Michigan, which was the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare. That split the state House Republicans right down the middle, while all the House Democrats but one voted for it. I doubt that it will happen this year with the federal COVID-19 relief funds. There is simply too much money that can be spent on worthy causes that any Republican should be able to justify supporting. I can’t believe a GOP primary challenger could be successful using such a vote against incumbent legislators. By the way, no Republican who voted ‘Yes’ on Healthy Michigan paid a price at the polls.
Q. Which side (the Democrats or the Republicans) have the PR upper hand regarding the issue of scaling back the liberalized COVID-era unemployment benefits?
A. Intellectually, Republicans can make a good case, and they’re making it now. Politically, however, this issue always benefits Democrats, and Republicans had better be careful. They are scoring points today, especially with small businesses, but by 2022 the worm will probably have turned.
Q. Will differences between Democrats and Republicans on the ‘police reforms’ issue require that these bills be set aside and dealt with completely outside of the budget process?
A. I don’t think the differences between the two major parties on this issue are as pronounced as you might think they would be. I also think legislators can walk and chew gum at the same time. They can and will get something done on police reform while also doing the budget. The two processes are separate and concomitant.
Q. Is the new independent commission working on Congressional and legislative redistricting more likely to speed up, or slow down, Michigan’s budget process in the coming months, and next year? And why or why not?
A. Redistricting should not impact the budget process much at all for what remains of this year, including supplementals, or for FY 2021-22. With or without the drawing of new maps, the same thing is likely to happen — most of the budget will get done by July 1 of next year. There may be parts of the budget that will drag past that statutory deadline, but not necessarily because of reapportionment politics. In fact, the budget process is probably the least likely thing to be affected politically by redistricting. By the way, some really absurd speculation is underway about how the new maps are going to look. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, but no one has a clue as to how the new districts are going to be drawn, or even whether the new commission is going to be responsible for them. What we’ve seen and heard from that panel so far hasn’t been inspiring. This could all be decided in court, as it has been countless times in the past.