Sep 23, 2007

Senate budget bill will pink-slip more than 600 state employees

LANSING --In what many Senators called a historic session, the Senate passed four bills in an attempt to balance the budget before the Oct. 1 deadline during a special session Sunday night.

The Senate approved a supplemental appropriations bill, Senate Bill 511 that makes painful cuts to the executive branch, the judiciary, the legislative branch, community colleges and universities to the tune of some $900 million by a vote of 20-18. Sen. Valde Garcia, R-Howell, cast the lone Republican no vote, saying the cuts were too deep and unrealistic and delay the entire process.

“The majority of the cuts in this bill are unrealistic,” he said. “I will vote for cuts, but only for cuts that are realistic.”

The bill still leaves a projected budget deficit of $568.8 million the Democratic House must deal with, and the fix, besides the cuts, includes $219.4 million of one-time revenue that are estimated to be received from the Michigan Business Tax.

Highlights of the cuts include a cut of $7.6 million from the Attorney General's budget that could result in the elimination of approximately 107 employees or 19 of the departmental work force, according to the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency. It will cause the elimination of 25 employees or 18 percent of the workforce from the Department of Civil Rights, 38 employees or 16 percent from the Department of Civil Service, 143 employees from the Department of Environmental Quality, from Judiciary 59 employees will be axed or approximately 11 of the judicial workforce, 31 employees from the Legislative Auditor General will go, from the Secretary of State the closure of approximately 25 branch offices and the layoff of approximately 80 employees and from the Department of Treasury approximately 137 employees will get a pink slip.

The Senate also passed House Bill 5194 along party lines, but it stripped the income tax rate out of the bill, removes a service tax and tie-bars it to the “reform” bill just passed. The House had tried for the past week to increase the income tax rate from 3.9 percent to 4.6 percent with HB 5194, but they did not have the votes. Instead, they sent a shell or vehicle bill to the Senate to get the process going.

“We did out job tonight and we reduced government,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester. “We will send this back to the House and if lighting strikes they will get something done tonight or maybe tomorrow.”

The Senate also passed SB 237 along party lines that cuts $363 million from the School Aid Fund.

SB 622 was also passed along party lines 21-17 that will allow the Michigan Department of Corrections to privatize the corrections mental health program by allowing them to contract with “third-party providers.”

Garcia, who has been very involved in budget negotiations and has been the target of a threatened recall by the Michigan Taxpayer Alliance for his actions, said if nothing is done by tomorrow, he will introduce a plan that bridges the gap between the House and Senate and the Governor’s plan.

“The public has not paid me to sit on my hands and do nothing,” he said.

The Senate adjourned at 9:49 p.m. Sunday, and they will reconvene at 2 p.m. Monday.

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