House speaker set to hold votes during Detroit chamber’s conference at Mackinac Island
Lansing — House Speaker Kevin Cotter plans to hold session and votes during an annual policy conference on Mackinac Island next month to give lawmakers more time to hammer out deals on the state budget and the Detroit school district’s debt, a spokesman said Tuesday.
The House will hold session on June 1 and June 2 — the first two days of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s three-day annual Mackinac Policy Conference, Cotter spokesman Gideon D’Assandro said.
Lawmakers usually work one day during the conference and then adjourn for the rest of the week to be at the Grand Hotel confab with influential business, civic and non-profit leaders.
The Republican-controlled House needs more time to negotiate a compromise on legislation overhauling the Detroit Public Schools as well as make adjustments to a state budget with less-than-expected revenue, D’Assandro said.
“We’ve just got a lot of stuff to work on,” he said. “We want to stay here and keep negotiations going.”
Cotter’s office announced the schedule change about three hours after state economists agreed Tuesday the state needs to scale back spending plans by $460 million in the current and upcoming fiscal years because of an unexpected decline in revenue.
“We are disappointed,” said Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber. “This is Michigan’s largest and most important policy conference and we had hoped the House would be in attendance with their Senate colleagues and the governor.”
The House needs extra days to work in June to meet its target of leaving for a summer recess on June 16, D’Assandro said.
Fifty-one of the House’s 110 members are registered to attend the June 1-3 policy conference at the Grand Hotel, according to the conference registration list.
The state Senate is tentatively scheduled to meet the morning of June 1 and then adjourn so senators can get to Mackinac Island by late afternoon, said Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof.
If lawmakers have not come to a resolution on the budget by May 31, the Senate will put off final votes until the week of June 6, McCann said.
State Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, said he was not suprised Cotter does not want to go to the policy conference because of the $500 million Detroit Public Schools debt relief plan House Republicans approved two weeks ago.
“It just tells me that maybe they’re afraid to have the conversation with the people on that island,” he said.
The Detroit Regional Chamber supports an alternative and bipartisan DPS plan approved in March by the Senate that includes $200 million in start-up costs for a new debt-free district and calls for creation of a new commission to oversee the opening of traditional and charter schools.
D’Assandro told reporters that Cotter’s decision to hold votes on the Thursday of the policy conference is not a reaction to the Detroit chamber’s position on DPS. Cotter hopes to continue negotiations in Lansing, even if many senators end up on the island, he said.
“We expect a few members to be down here that we can talk to and continue conversations, but if we have to do it over the phone, we can do it over the phone,” D’Assandro said.
Singh said he was disappointed by Cotter’s scheduling move, calling it a missed opportunity for DPS discussions.
“It’s going to be the No. 1 issue talked about up there, and when you have those business leaders, you have those educators there, why wouldn’t we add our voice there to see if we can maybe find a compromise on the island?” he said.
Lawmakers did not attend the Detroit chamber’s 2012 conference, opting to remain in Lansing and work on the budget to meet an arbitrary deadline of finishing the spending plan before June 1. The state constitution requires a state budget be in place by Sept. 30.