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For The Week Of June 13, 2021 Through June 19, 2021

League Of Women Voters Urge Personal Contacts For Redistricting Input

By Ben Solis
Staff Writer
Posted: June 17, 2021 3:35 PM

Michigan's first-ever Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission is in the final throes of its work to gain public input on what and where communities of interest exist statewide, but at least one group working closely with the commission has urged greater participation.

The League of Women Voters Michigan is calling on residents to submit written testimony and proposed maps if they have not done so already. They are also now working with local governments to gain their input on the redistricting process but are urging residents and others to make personal contacts with local officials to encourage them to give testimony.

Members of the commission are soon wrapping up their statewide public outreach tour and held a press conference Wednesday detailing their work thus far. Commissioners emphasized that the hearings have been a great success (See Gongwer Michigan Report, June 16, 2021).

That said, Sue Smith, vice president of League of Women Voters Michigan, noted during the press conference that there are some groups they've worked with that have already submitted testimony and others that still wish to do so. However, a few barriers remain for those who wish to submit maps and testimony.

Ms. Smith has urged those who have yet to testify about their communities of interest to submit written testimony through the commission's online public comment tool if getting a public hearing is an issue and to submit a map for consideration if they have one.

The League has also noticed that while many have spoken passionately about their townships, cities or counties as close-knit communities, there are instances where the state's current maps have divided local municipalities that want to be together.

But some municipal leaders have yet to testify, and Ms. Smith said the League is reaching out to those leaders individually to encourage them to do so.

At the same time, Ms. Smith said the commission has also on its own reached out to the Michigan Townships Association, the Michigan Municipal League, and Michigan Association of Counties.

They in turn have reached out to their members, however, Ms. Smith said sometimes a personal contact by a member of the community goes a long way and could be the difference in whether those leaders participate.

As the redistricting process moves from the public input phase to the hard work of drawing new legislative and congressional district maps ahead of the 2022 election, Gongwer News Service is hosting a webinar on what's been thus far and where the process is headed next.

The discussion will be moderated by Gongwer Publisher and Executive Editor Zach Gorchow, featuring insights from myself and Brian Began, a longtime political operative who was a key player in the 2011 reapportionment process. It will be the first of a series of webinars Gongwer and Kelley Cawthorne will co-host on redistricting as the process continues.

The webinar is scheduled for 2 p.m. Monday, June 21. Registration is required to access the webinar.

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How Public Will Governor, Legislature Be On Budget?

By Zachary Gorchow
Executive Editor and Publisher
Posted: June 15, 2021 2:39 PM

The administration of Governor Gretchen Whitmer and top legislative leaders are going through the annual budget target-setting process as we speak where high-level details for the upcoming 2021-22 fiscal year budget are negotiated and General Fund spending levels for each department are determined.

Usually, this would involve the sides making a deal here to achieve one side's priority and a deal there to attain another side's and overall meet somewhere in the middle on spending levels.

There's nothing usual about this year, however. The state has some $12 billion in unanticipated funds available thanks to revenues wildly exceeding forecasts and the mountain of federal aid from the American Rescue Plan. This is more than an entire year's worth of revenue to the General Fund.

In many ways, Budget Director Dave Massaron and legislative appropriators are building a new budget from scratch and not just for the upcoming fiscal year. They also must build huge supplemental appropriations bills for the current year.

Saying this is an unprecedented amount of money does not do the current climate justice. It is doubtful we will see something like this again.

These target meetings are especially delicate. As you might have heard, budget negotiations have gone really poorly between Ms. Whitmer and Republican legislative leaders since she took office in 2019. Save for the successful rush job on the current year 2020-21 budget put together last September, every other budget action has devolved into acrimony and each side testing the limits of their authority to stick a finger in the eye of the other side.

But all indications are this negotiation is going well so far and a target agreement is close.

Sometimes I think these target discussions, which take place behind closed doors, resemble the last scene in "Spies Like Us" where a U.S. delegation, led by the immortal Emmett Fitz-Hume and Austin Milbarge, is "negotiating" nuclear disarmament with a Soviet delegation based on who wins a game of Trivial Pursuit.

Last year's budget, while successful in the sense that Ms. Whitmer and the Republican majorities in the Legislature agreed to a budget, was the least transparent budget in memory. None of its spending details were made public until hours before the House and Senate sent it to Ms. Whitmer for signature.

It's now been six years since a target agreement was last made public. It used to be that once the governor and legislative leaders signed the target agreement, the details of that agreement would be made public. Then the chairs of the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees would begin working out the finer points of the budget for each department and major budget area. It wasn't perfect but it allowed a good amount of detail to be put out to the public prior to the bills landing on the governor's desk.

In recent years, however, target agreements have not been released. There's never really been a good reason given other than that the principals don't want to do so. This also has followed a consolidation of decision-making authority on the budget in the hands of leadership and the Appropriations chairs. The subcommittee chairs, the ones who spend months building the details of each departmental budget, of late have been pushed aside for whatever reason.

The House, Senate and State Budget Office have loosely committed not to repeat last year's one-day budget rush delivery. In that instance, there was a target agreement with no details released and then about a week passed before the Legislature voted on those bills. The fiscal agencies made details of the bills public in the morning, and then, before anyone not directly involved in the process had a chance to comprehend them, the House and Senate passed the bills.

With the new July 1 deadline to present a budget to the governor, the calendar is setting up for something similar. There could be an agreement with Ms. Whitmer and legislative leaders sending the message of "Trust us, we found agreement, so it has to be good." There's once-in-ever money at stake here. Does the process end again with no opportunity for stakeholders and the public to share some thoughts on the agreement?

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