Feb 17, 2009

Senate Republicans offered the opportunity to be fair and help the budget shortfall

Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, called out Senate Republicans on Tuesday to put their money where their mouth is and sacrifice and makes some cuts to help make up the $1.5 billon projected budget shortfall.

Last week Sen. Tom George, R-Kalamazoo, introduced an anti-state employee resolution that urged state employees to either work on President's Day or take the day off as an unpaid holiday in light of the budget situation, and Whitmer asked George what he had sacrificed to balance the budget. Today, she gave him and Senate Republicans the opportunity to sacrifice.

She plans on introducing a resolution calling that would mandate that all Senate caucus and member offices, regardless of party, have the same overall compensation and expense levels. This proposal stands to save taxpayers $3 million by eliminating the current disparity in the budgets for Republican and Democratic Senators. Democratic offices would receive the same amount of money as Republicans.

“As we find ourselves facing yet another large budget deficit, we should be looking at every way we can cut costs and verify that taxpayer money is being spent properly,” Whitmer said. “Individual Senate Republican office budgets are almost $100,000 more than those of Senate Democrats. This proposal would take the $3 million that the
Senate Majority currently has in excess of the Minority and put it in the State’s General Fund to help turn our economy around and fund essential state services to help Michigan families.”

Under Senate rules, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop sets the budget allotment for each office, and that includes money for employees, postage, mailings and other expenses. Bishop has chosen to give Republican offices more money and benefit packages for five employees, and Democratic offices have packages for just three employees. Now, an office can also choose to use their budget from another area to hire a part-time hourly employee, but they receive no benefits. Republicans have a 21-16 lead in the Senate, with the seat vacated by Democrat Mark Schauer’s election to Congress still vacant.

When Democrats took control of the House in 2006, Speaker of the House Andy Dillon, D-Redford, gave each office, regardless of party, the same amount of office allotment and two benefit packages. Democrats enjoy a large 67-43 advantage.

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