GOP House budget moves forward toward floor vote

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

The state House Appropriations Committee advanced the GOP-led House budget plan for Fiscal Year 2022 this week, which shifts some state agencies’ budgets to a quarterly basis and includes some stipulations for state departments and agencies around COVID-19 safety protocols.

Committee Chair Rep. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) said Wednesday that the move to create a quarterly budget for some state agencies would “build in accountability and legislative review of the budget year-round.”

Albert said this change is because he is “deeply concerned about what the federal government is doing to our economy” and that this “is exactly what we need after the past year of unilateral decisions by the governor and her administration.”

Seven departments, including the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), Department of the Attorney General, Department of Civil Rights, Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO), Secretary of State (SOS) and Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB), would be moved to a quarterly budget under the proposed plan. 

Budgets for schools, local governments and public safety would continue to be done annually. 

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Rep. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit) said this is a “radical” decision and “smacks of partisan politics.”

“It’s so unpredictable, everything’s unpredictable. And the one thing you can predict is your budget and how much money you have on hand based on what is in front of you,” Carter said. “A quarterly budget can change, and things sometimes need changing, but this is so radical that I’m trying to figure out how to justify this.”

A quarterly budget could be financially detrimental to the agency, the employees and the people needing the services, said Carter, an Appropriations Committee member. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced her own Fiscal Year 2022 state budget proposal worth $67.1 billion in February. The new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.

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The proposed budget by the House would also require Secretary of State offices and Unemployment Insurance Agency branches to be fully open. These offices have been on an appointment-only basis since June 1, 2020 due to the pandemic. 

“I know people yearn and want a face-to-face interaction, but sometimes we have to consider the people actually doing the job as opposed to the people that need the service,” Carter said. “So, I’d much rather err on the side of caution. It’s working now. It’s not perfection. But if we get one breakout like we had at a Secretary of State office down here in Detroit, we shut it down and then nobody gets services.” 

Additionally, the budget would prohibit state government agencies from requiring the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of receiving state services.

The House plan would also reduce the number of unclassified positions within state departments and enhance reporting requirements for separation agreements with state employees.

Republicans have been hyper-focused on separation agreements which include severance pay after former Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon’s abrupt resignation in January, which included $155,000 in severance pay.

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Democrats on the committee offered a number of amendments to the budget bills Wednesday, but all of them were rejected. 

In order to get a budget passed, Republicans need to be able to reach across the aisle, Carter said. 

The House budget is expected to be taken up on the floor for a vote soon, but will need to get through negotiations with the Senate and approved by the governor.