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Michigan House floats quarterly budgets, makes cuts in departments

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — The GOP-led House has proposed quarterly budgets for many state departments to keep better tabs on how the money is spent, while proposing cuts in various departments. 

The latest budget move unveiled Tuesday is one of several House-proposed changes, including the elimination of several legislative liaison positions, limits on vaccination requirements and severance payments, and the rejection of a $3.2 million increase to executive security. But it would require Senate approval and the unlikely signature of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to become law.

Of the plans proposed Tuesday, quarterly budgeting was planned for the departments of Natural Resources; Environment, Great Lakes and Energy; Attorney General; Civil Rights; Labor and Economic Opportunity; Secretary of State; and Technology, Management and Budget. Quarterly budget plans will not be used for public safety, education, and certain portions of the Department of Health and Human Services budget, said Rep. Thomas Albert, chairman for the House Appropriations Committee. 

Michigan House of Representatives is seen in this file photo from 2018.

The quarterly budgeting technique is "common" in businesses and families to help "keep their finances on track" and should be useful in state government, said Albert, R-Lowell.

"One of the Legislature’s main missions is oversight of how taxpayer money is spent," Albert said. "Moving to a quarterly system for reviewing and approving budgets will help us fulfill that mission. This change ensures more accountability, efficiency and transparency by building it right into the system four times a year through legislative review." 

State Budget Director David Massaron said the decision to adopt quarterly budgeting was a "particularly silly position."

"Three month budgeting doesn’t work in the private sector, anyone’s personal finances and certainly not for government," Massaron said. "It’s odd that former Gov. (Rick) Snyder received praise for bringing a long-term view of budgeting to state government, yet now they want to implement a three-month budgeting practice that has never been done before.”

Among the department budgets unveiled Tuesday were allocations for state police, agriculture, natural resources, environment, general government, and military and veterans affairs.

Each of the spending plans includes boiler plate language that would prohibit agencies from requiring a COVID-19 vaccine disclosure or passport as a condition of receiving service and requires departments to report any severance agreements. 

Each of the budgets eliminates between three and five unclassified full-time positions, including legislative liaisons. 

The Michigan State Police budget proposal rejects a $3.2 million funding increase Whitmer had recommended for "contractual services that the MSP provides for executive service."

In the Attorney General's budget, the House included a placeholder for an independent special counsel to investigate cases and deaths resulting from the state's COVID-19 nursing home policies. Attorney General Dana Nessel has rejected two requests for investigations into the policies. 

Michigan House Appropriations Committee Chairman Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, is promoting quarterly budgeting for the state government as a way to help keep finances on track.

The House would discontinue funding for the Michigan Reconnect and Futures for Frontliners programs, which finances post-secondary education in general and front-line workers.

The House included $4 million more to support fraud detection within the state unemployment insurance system, but rejected spending for the continued employment of 500 full-time workers who were temporarily added last year to the department. 

The House plan also requires the opening of all Secretary of State and Unemployment Insurance Agency offices for in-person service, with or without an appointment. 

The Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity would be required to return any COVID-19-related fines levied on employers between April 30, 2020 and Oct. 13, 2020, a period during which Whitmer's executive orders were later declared unconstitutional. 

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration said the fines were levied under separate rules within the agency but businesses fined more than $50,000 during that time are arguing the fines are the last vestiges of Whitmer's emergency orders that were later ruled unconstitutional.

The House concurred with Whitmer on several fronts, including about $6 million to help first responders deal with behavioral health issues, about $1 million to implement new automatic expungement bills, $15 million for dam emergencies and $1 million for a dam safety grant program.