Monetary advantage

Democrats come with an advantage unprecedented in Michigan history: billions of dollars in surplus in state coffers.

The expected $9.2 billion revenue surplus is a combination of federal aid and the unique circumstances of the pandemic. It’s also one-time funding, meaning lawmakers can’t rely on it forever, and fiscal analysts recently predicted the state is moving towards a “soft” recession.

Still, in the meantime, it frees Democrats from having to make painful budget cuts or demand tax increases, leaving more room to advance other policies they haven’t had the final say on for years, said John Lindstrom, former publisher of Gongwer News Service, who has followed Michigan politics for nearly 50 years.

The last time the Democrats took control in 1982, Michigan was in economic crisis, and then-Gov. Jim Blanchard spent most of his political capital next session to support an income tax increase, Lindstrom said.

“If you had told anybody at that time, ‘One day, 40 years from now, you’re going to have a $9 billion surplus, somebody would have killed you,'” Lindstrom said. “That money gives you a huge advantage and an even bigger responsibility that you have to consider, and there’s never been a situation like this in the state.”

The Democrats’ $1.1 billion spending plan included more than $700 million in general fund and unused federal funds, as well as $200 million for a Swedish company to upgrade an Upper Peninsula paper mill, $150 million for affordable housing and $25 million to prevent water outages, among other things.

That’s a lot more than the Senate’s original “book-closing” bill on funding carried over from last term, including money for the state’s independent redistricting commission.

House Republicans opposed a version of that bill stripped of all but the placeholders, citing concerns about the strategy of sending the bill to a special conference committee instead of taking it through the normal committee process or bringing it up for debate.

Tate, who served as the minority vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee before becoming speaker, countered that conference committees are a common legislative practice.

“We want to move in an efficient way and actually do something that we didn’t do in the last legislative session,” he said.

Same as the old boss?

Despite all these upheavals, the legislative process itself has not yet changed much either procedurally or politically.

While in the minority, Democrats have often chided Republicans for political gamesmanship, saying they have been unfairly shut out of negotiations and that the majority lacks transparency in making major policy changes.

Now that the shoe is on the other foot, Republicans are airing similar grievances.

“I think that’s something you guys are going to see a lot these two years,” Hall told reporters last week. “All we’re asking is you show us what your plans are and we’ll vote, but until they do, they’re not going to get Republican votes.”

The House and Senate schedules followed the usual Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday schedule. Legislative committees still have more members of the majority party than the minority party, although some Republicans have accused Democrats of rejecting the recommendations of House Republican committees and cramming more of their own members into the committees. .

The House also plans to continue using the vote to take bills into law immediately once they are signed into law, Tate recently confirmed, a procedural move that Democrats have previously criticized.

“There are things they’re going to deal with sometimes when people say, ‘Wait, you used to (complain) when Republicans did it, and now you’re doing the same thing,'” Lindstrom said of Democrats. noting that it can be “a little harder” for party leaders to stay on top when they see the political benefits of certain procedural decisions.

“For a long time, the Democrats had no real influence. You want to continue and progress, but you also have to be careful when you do that,” he continued. “If you have to drive near a cliff, drive near the cliff, don’t drive over it.”

Pahucki, who serves as the House speaker pro tempore and often presides over the session, said Democrats don’t plan to shut down debate as often as Republicans have. She said she noticed at one point last week that the Republican lawmaker appeared to be expecting to be “knocked down” or cut off from finishing his speech during the debate. She let him continue.

Despite some concerns about what has happened so far, many Republicans expressed confidence that they will be able to find common ground with their Democratic colleagues.

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