The Gongwer Blog

by Zach Gorchow, Elena Durnbaugh and Nick Smith

Democrats Jam Budget, Blitz Of Bills As Legislature Leaves

Posted: June 28, 2024 12:44 PM

One of the lightest legislative years in memory roared to life Wednesday and then on toward dawn Thursday as the Democratic majority in the Legislature blasted the 2024-25 fiscal year budget through to passage just eight hours after it began to publicly leak and approved an avalanche of major bills.

The budget, at $82.52 billion ($14.88 billion General Fund), was kept under wraps until the last moment. As has been the case in recent years, it will take some time to unpack what's in the budget and review the changes.

Overall, there was little specific controversy over the budget for state departments, community colleges and higher education. The most heated controversy was on the K-12 budget and what to do regarding payments into the retiree health care portion of the Michigan Public School Employees' Retirement System (see separate story).

The House passed the K-12 budget (HB 5507 ) at 1:42 a.m. on a 56-54 party-line vote. The Senate followed suit just before 5 a.m. on a 20-18 party-line vote. The Senate passed the budget for state departments and agencies (SB 747 ) at 4:32 a.m. on a 21-17 mostly party-line vote. The House then passed the departments and agencies omnibus budget bill at 5:10 a.m. on a 56-54 party line vote.

As budget work went on behind the scenes, the Democratic legislative majority uncorked an explosion of policy legislation after months of relative inaction, particularly in the House.

Passing Wednesday evening and in the pre-dawn hours Thursday:

The first-ever passage by the Senate of expansion of the Freedom of Information Act to the governor's office and the Legislature;

Moving the state health insurance marketplace to a state exchange instead of the federal exchange;

A package of bills designed to improve maternal health;

Prohibiting discrimination in housing based on income;

Pawnbroker interest rate regulations;

A prohibition on the "gay panic" defense in criminal cases;

Extending the prevailing wage law to solar and wind energy projects;

Loosening the rules for medically frail prisoners to receive parole to increase eligibility;

Allowing home care workers to unionize.

The House and Senate adjourned until July 30, though it would be a surprise to see sessions held that day with the August 6 primary looming.

The budget will take time to analyze. School superintendents warned legislators the budget would mean layoffs.

Senate Republicans did provide the six votes necessary to grant the bill immediate effect, with Sen. Ed McBroom of Vulcan (the one yes vote on the budget) voting with Sen. Jon Bumstead of North Muskegon, Sen. Kevin Daley of Lum, Sen. John Damoose of Harbor Springs, Sen. Mark Huizenga of Walker and Sen. Michael Webber of Rochester Hills.

Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Township) pointed to the $9 billion budget surplus Democrats inherited when they took control of the Legislature in 2023, which was spent down in one year.

Nesbitt said those funds could have been spent on long-term infrastructure improvements, improving education, or paying down debt.

"That could have been transformational for so many of the needs of this state," Nesbitt said. "None of that's happened. Instead, we've seen it blown on corporate handouts, left-wing pet projects, and on a public relations campaign of a certain governor's shadow campaign for president."

Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) said she was proud of the product before them Thursday morning.

"Last year, we focused our first budget on transformation, and this year we focused on continuation," Brinks said. "We are continuing to build on the historic progress we made last year, and with the passage of this budget in front of us today, together, we are building up Michigan."

Sen. Rick Outman (R-Six Lakes) disagreed, saying members had little time to look at the budget before being forced to vote on it shortly after 4 a.m.

"It's not wise, it's not good government and it is certainly lacking some serious sunshine," Outman said.

House Speaker Joe Tate, asked about the partisan votes, told reporters after session that it was "unfortunate" the budget couldn't get bipartisan support.

"We feel like we were continuing to move the state forward, working in good faith, but we're excited about the budget we passed," he said.

Rep. Sarah Lightner (R-Springport), the House Appropriations Committee minority vice chair, blamed the Whitmer administration for the partisan nature of the budget.

"Our relationship, and the conversations between Rep. Witwer, and myself and our caucuses were productive, and I would say that the executive was a challenge," she said. "We just couldn't get there this year … And again, this year, we got no amendments. We put up over 200 amendments to different budget bills. Nothing was given to us, and that's not how negotiations work."

Some Republicans put a positive spin on a budget they weren't pleased with.

"I'm really pleased about the votes the Democrats have had to take over the past few days," Rep. Mike Hoadley (R-Au Gres) said. "It's almost going to assure a Republican victory in November."

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