Newly elected Michigan Legislature starts 2-year session

Inside the Michigan House of Representatives on Jan. 14, 2015.


LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Legislature began a new two-year session Wednesday with new faces and new leaders, who pledged to work together and avoid gridlock before being met on their first day with some sobering budget numbers.

Republicans enjoy expanded legislative majorities after the November election, outnumbering Democrats 63-47 in the House and 27-11 in the Senate. Three of the four main legislative leaders are new after their predecessors left office last month under term limits.

It was mostly a day of pomp, swearings-in and proud moments for lawmakers and their families — though they also got details about budget forecasts from legislative economists. The new leaders spoke after taking their oaths.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof of West Olive told senators he wants to “set a tone that differentiates the Michigan Senate from the gridlock and stalemate that is most often associated with any government.” And new Senate Democratic Leader Jim Ananich of Flint said he would be neither a roadblock nor a rubber stamp.

“My caucus and I will strive to be a bridge — judicious, deliberate and realistic,” he said. “That’s what our state and our people want and need — collaboration and cooperation.”

Forty-three members of the 110-seat House are new to the chamber. The 38-seat Senate has 10 new members — nine of whom previously served in the House.

Lawmakers will meet next week to hear Gov. Rick Snyder’s State of the State initiatives. His budget proposal is expected in early February and will be based on numbers agreed to Friday at a revenue-estimating meeting, at which legislative budget experts and the administration expect to settle on less rosy projections than eight months ago.

A big reason is because businesses cashed in more tax credits than expected.

The nonpartisan House and Senate fiscal agencies estimate that revenue was $287 million to $302 million lower than expected in the last fiscal year and is $212 million to $361 million below target for this budget year. The estimates for the 2015-16 year are $373 million to $508 million less than projected in May.

Senate economists said because of the size of the business tax credits, “their unpredictable nature can result in large swings in General Fund revenue.” It also said that the value of credits authorized for use from 2015 to 2032 grew from $4.9 billion to $6.5 billion since 2011 — even though Snyder, a critic of the incentives, took office that year and eliminated new tax credits.

The amount of outstanding credits expected to be paid increased $1.7 billion to $4.9 billion.

“What’s happening is we’re sort of paying for the promises of the past,” said state budget office spokesman Kurt Weiss.

When Snyder and Republicans took control four years ago, they enacted a conservative agenda of business tax cuts, right-to-work laws, toughened emergency manager measures and changes to public workers’ retirement benefits.

In the session that just ended, Republicans joined with Democrats to pass laws that drew opposition from the GOP’s right wing: Medicaid expansion, a state bailout to help end Detroit’s bankruptcy and a proposed constitutional amendment asking voters to increase the state’s 6 percent sales tax to 7 percent in the coming May election as part of a deal to improve deteriorating roads.

“Our calling is to continue to tackle big issues and making the tough decisions that for too long others were not willing to make,” said new Republican House Speaker Kevin Cotter of Mount Pleasant.

House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills said the Legislature has shown bipartisanship on major laws and residents want more compromise — not “partisan politics used to push through an extreme agenda.”

 

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