August 8, 2021
The House of Representatives and Senate have been on recess since late June except for a day or two in July. The House of Representatives is scheduled to return for the week of August 15 and the Senate for a day on August 25 before starting their tentative fall schedule on August 31.
Hopes Dashed — Just when we thought the worst was over because of increased vaccination rates, Michigan is facing a fourth wave of increased COVID infections and hospitalizations. The highly infectious Delta variant has become a pandemic among the unvaccinated — youth under 12 for whom there is no approved vaccine yet; those advised by their doctors not to get the vaccine; adherents to an organized religion with objections to vaccinations; and the refuseniks for their own personal reasons.
Transmission Rates — The Associated Press is reporting that as of August 3 nearly half of Michigan residents live in counties where the federal government is urging everyone ages 2 and over, including the fully vaccinated, to wear masks in public indoor settings because transmission of the coronavirus is “high” or “substantial.”
The guidance affected 33 of 83 counties — including large ones such as Oakland, Macomb, and Ingham — up from ten mostly small, rural counties when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations were issued the week before. The counties are home to more than 4.6 million residents, or 46 percent of the State’s population.
Schools — A key to economic prosperity is safe school settings. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services recently released recommendations for schools urging masking regardless of vaccination status, physical distancing, and COVID-19 testing. While the recommendations are specific to schools, they can be used for other sites serving children, such as child care facilities.
The longer it takes to get more people vaccinated, the more likely another variant will develop that eludes our current vaccinations, the experts are telling us. And booster shots may be in our future. Pay attention to reliable COVID news from public health professionals for your own and your loved ones’ safety. A good source is www.michigan.gov/coronavirus.
ANNUAL SUPPLEMENT UPDATE
SERA is working to eliminate the $300 ($25 per month) annual supplement cap for defined benefit State employee retirees. At first, we seized an opportunity to amend a fast-moving popular bill to eliminate the seven-word sentence in the State Employee Retirees’ Act. It was added in 1987 to give defined benefit State employee retirees a 3 percent per year annual supplement but then caps it at $300. By now that $300 is worth $129 and 85 percent of State employee retirees have hit the $300 cap. We attempted to amend the bill on the House floor but the bill sponsor didn’t support it, the amendment was defeated, and the bill was adopted.
We have now changed strategy and are seeking a stand-alone bill that just eliminates the offending sentence. We have approached Sens. Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing) and Tom Barrett (R-Grand Ledge) to co-sponsor or sponsor the bill. Removing the $300 cap would put defined benefit State employee retirees in the same annual supplement situation as school employee retirees in the Member Investment Plan. We estimate the cost to the pension fund (not taxpayers) would be around $25 million per year. Please call the Senator’s offices (Hertel: 517-373-1734, Barrett: 517-373-3447) and urge their sponsorship of our bill to eliminate the $300 cap.
PENSION TAX PROPOSALS
Pension Tax Repeal — House Bill (HB) 4002 to sunset the pension tax has not moved though it did have a hearing on April 14 in House Appropriations Committee. The bill sponsor’s office says they have no information to support a conclusion that it will be taken up this session. The hit to State revenues is very high and there is insufficient political pressure to address the issue.
Pension Tax Modification — On a more hopeful note, Senate Bill (SB) 467 sponsored by Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) to amend the Michigan Income Tax Act to increase the amount an individual born after 1945 and had reached the age of 67 could deduct from taxable income has been reported out of committee and is ready for full Senate action. SB 467 would increase the amount of deduction from $20,000 to $25,000 per return for single filers, and from $40,000 to $50,000 for joint filers and thereafter index the deduction amount to an inflation factor. The SERA Coordinating Council Executive Committee voted to support the bill and we submitted oral and written testimony in support. Please contact your State Senator and ask that he or she support putting SB 467 on the floor for a vote and then vote yes for passage.
In July, Governor Whitmer signed two important bi-partisan education funding bills. On July 7, she approved a supplemental appropriation bill (HB 4421) for this year’s K-12 education budget appropriating $4.4 billion in federal COVID relief funding to support schools around the state. The bi-partisan supplemental bill distributes more than $4 billion from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) program. A total of $841 million comes from funding approved by Congress in December 2020 during the Trump administration and $3.3 billion comes from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan.
On July 13, the Governor signed the historic School Aid Fund budget for next fiscal year of $17.1 billion in HB 4411, the largest investment in public schools in Michigan’s history. It eliminates for the first time the funding gap between schools without raising taxes and ensures every school district has the same baseline funding of $8,700 per child, an increase of $589 per pupil from the current year minimum amount. The disparity between rich and poor districts has been a problem since the 1994 Proposal A passed reforming the funding for K-12 schools. At the same time, there are steps in the bill toward a weighted foundation formula to achieve equity in funding for students with greater needs. The bill also expands access to Michigan’s preschool program, the Great Start Readiness Program, for every eligible four-year-old.
Yet undecided is the higher education budget and the general budget for all of State government for the fiscal year starting October 1.
BOARD OF STATE CANVASSERS
Unlock #1 — In July meetings, the Michigan Board of State Canvassers finally certified the Unlock Michigan voter-initiated law. The Unlock Michigan law repels the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act which Governor Whitmer used to keep Michigan under a state of emergency through the beginning of the COVID pandemic until a court decision last October resulted in the then GOP-controlled Michigan Supreme Court declaring the law an unconstitutional delegation of legislative powers to the executive. Since that time, the Governor has been using emergency public health powers to regulate the pandemic response.
The Michgan House and Senate then approved the voter-initiated Unlock Michigan measure in July. Under Michigan’s constitution, the Governor cannot veto a voter-initiated law. It will take effect 91 days after the Legislature adjourns for the year in December.
Unlock #2 — The Board also approved for voter signature collection the Unlock Michgan ballot committee’s language for a second initiated law petition drive to amend the State’s public health code. This voter-initiated law seeks to bar executive branch authority over infectious disease outbreak orders lasting longer than 28 days unless the State Legislature or local governing body extends it.
LGBT Civil Rights — The Board also found the initiated-law petition drive to amend Michigan’s civil rights act to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the protected groups had insufficient signatures to be certified for further legislative action. The Fair and Equal Michigan ballot committee has filed an appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court objecting to the standards used by the Board of State Canvassers to reject its petition signatures
August 3 saw nearly 400 jurisdictions hold elections across the state. They ran smoothly with unofficial results tabulated efficiently, including in Detroit, where the majority of absentee ballot totals were reported Tuesday evening, with the remainder completed very early Wednesday morning, the Secretary of State reported.
On the ballot were primaries to fill two open State Senate GOP-held seats. State Rep. Mark Huizenga (R-Walker) narrowly won the Republican nomination in the 28th Senate district. Rep. Doug Wozniak (R-Shelby Township) won the Republican primary in the 8th Senate district. State Reps. Alex Garza (D-Taylor) and Abdullah Hammoud (D-Dearborn) won primaries in mayoral races. If these four win their bids for other posts in November, the resulting House vacancies will be filled next year.
Forty-eight of the tax increase proposals on local ballots passed and nine failed for a passage rate of 84 percent.
Campaign Finance Reports — Recent required campaign finance reports reveal Governor Whitmer’s re-election campaign has fundraised $8.6 million from January 1 to July 20. Her campaign now has $10.7 million in hand. No other gubernatorial candidate has raised this amount in an off-year, nor during an election year — and Whitmer’s tally is three times the amount her predecessor, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, raised in 2014 for re-election. The reason for the record-breaking numbers? Candidates facing recall efforts in Michigan, such as Governor Whitmer, do not have to follow the State’s individual campaign finance contribution cap of $7,150, according to a 1984 ruling by then-Secretary of State Richard Austin. According to the report, Whitmer’s top contributors include Mark Bernstein, a personal injury lawyer and a member of the University of Michigan Board of Regents ($257,150), and Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker ($250,000).
Michigan Senate Republicans raised $705,211 this quarter with $4.053 million cash on hand, compared to Senate Democrats’ $304,604 raised with $1.047 million cash on hand.
House Republicans raised $572,911 with $1.78 million cash on hand, while House Democrats raised $503,116 with $898,295 cash on hand.
The Michigan Independent Citizen’s Redistricting Commission (MICRC) has finished its first round of required public hearings and is now meeting three times a week to learn and practice the software for future mapping of Michigan’s Congressional, State Senate, and State House district boundaries using the criteria adopted by the voters in 2018. The U.S. Census released legacy format data on August 12 with more detailed population data scheduled to be released in late September. According to the Michigan Constitution, the MICRC is to publish its preliminary maps for a 45-day public review and at least five subsequent public hearings on September 17. However, because of Census data delays, that schedule is doubtful.
Recently, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) issued its suggested maps for the State House and Senate districts which can be found on its website www.miaflcio.org.
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