Perhaps for a few months, this will be the last column which will lead off with a discussion on the state’s budget. After many months of feuding over how to balance the 2004-5 fiscal year budget, several eleventh-hour agreements allowed a balanced budget to be passed. It was not easy, however. The largest stumbling block was the issue of the shifting of the due date for county taxes. House members finally passed it despite strong opposition on both sides of the aisle (see explanation of this measure below). With a combination of tax increases (discussed in previous articles) and tweaking of various programs, the puzzle was finally solved and the budget is balanced. However, don’t breathe too hard because you might cause it to become unbalanced.
Despite the legislatures’ preoccupation with budget issues, they did find the time to deal with other matters. The following are some of the legislative actions which may be of interest to our membership:
SB 1111 and 1112 are keys bills in the budget agreement between the legislature and the Governor. These bills have been signed into law and are now PA 356 and 357, respectively. They provide for shifting the date county taxes are due from December to July on a phased-in basis. Beginning in 2005, one-third of the county taxes which would normally be due in December, will be due in July. In 2006, two-thirds of the county taxes will be due in July. In 2007, the entire amount of the county taxes formerly due in December will be due in July. This tax revenue will allow the state to avoid paying normal revenue sharing payments to counties and mandate each county to establish its own reserve fund from which it may draw. The bills also set limits on the amount a county may withdraw from its reserve fund and defines the circumstances under which a county may receive payments from a state-established revenue sharing fund. This bill was very controversial and extremely difficult to get enacted into law because some politicians labeled it as a tax increase.
HB 4880 is a bill which creates a new specific tax on qualified manufactured housing property. The amount of the tax would be based on the type of home, i.e. — single section, double section, or multi-section home. This annual specific tax would be in lieu of general property taxes and be payable in the same manner and at the same time as standard property taxes. Under this bill, a manufactured home would be defined as a mobile home. On a five year phased in basis the taxes would be: single section $60.00 beginning in 2004 and reaching $120 in 2008; double section $72 beginning in 2004 and reaching $180 in 2008; multi-section $120 in 2004 and reaching $240 in 2008. In 2009 and thereafter, the tax would be adjusted by the consumer price index and a factor determined by formula for any millage levied by an intermediate school district. The distribution of the tax payment would be 70% to the local school district, 10% to the county, and 20% to the city, village, or township. The bill has passed the House and is now in the Senate Committee on Finance.
SBs 220, 687, 792-98, and 803 are a series of bills intended to address the issue of identity theft. These bills cover the wide range of issues relating to theft of an individual’s identity. Among many other things, these bills would limit the disclosure of one’s Social Security number, prohibit it from appearing in a manner in which it is visible to the public, provide for obtaining a police report by a victim of identity theft, provide for the prosecution of those who steal one’s identity, etc. This comprehensive package of bills has passed both the House and the Senate and are in the process of becoming law.
SB 1095 is a bill which removes the prohibition against Michigan pharmacists dispensing prescription medications by mail. This bill was introduced in support of the Medicaid budget for 2004-5 which requires mail order prescription services to be used by Medicaid recipients. At the hearing on this bill, the Committee chairperson indicated she had been instructed by her Senate leadership to pass the bill out of Committee with no amendments and thus would not accept any amendments to the bill. It passed with little discussion. The bill has now gone to the House where it has been assigned to the House Committee on Insurance. There has been no recent action on the series of House bills which vastly change the manner out-of-state mail order firms do business in Michigan. SERA opposes these House bills because of their great potential for increasing our co-payments. SERA supports SB 1095 as long as it is not amended.
SB 1293 and 1317 are bills to honor Ronald Reagan by establishing a day in his honor and a commission to oversee the financing, design, site location, and construction of a memorial monument dedicated to the former President. SB 1293 would declare February 6 of each year as the Day to commemorate “the significant role President Ronald Reagan played in the history of this nation.” SB 1317 would establish the “Ronald Wilson Reagan Memorial Monument Fund Commission Act” to fund and construct a monument. The bill further outlines the makeup of the Commission and establishes guidelines for raising funds. The bill has passed the Senate and is now in the House Committee on Government Operations.
SB 1130 is a bill which would create the Michigan Exposition and Fairgrounds Authority in the Department of Management and Budget. Current responsibility for the Fairgrounds would be transferred from the Department of Agriculture to the new entity. Among the things the bill would do is require the composition of the Authority to consist of representatives of agricultural interests, Fair exhibitors, tourism, the general public, organized labor, the business community, and county fairs. The Authority would have to submit a rolling five year operational and construction plan to the Governor and the legislature. The Authority would be prohibited from allowing gambling, horse racing, or motorized vehicle racing while the State Fair was not being conducted. The bill has passed the Senate and is now in the House Committee on Agriculture and Resource Management.
Drug Discount Card — Governor Granholm has announced the introduction of a prescription discount card which could reduce the cost of prescriptions by as much a 20% for eligible individuals and families. To be eligible, a person’s or a family’s income must be below the state median income level. For individuals, this amount is $27,930. For a family of four, this amount is $56,550. The program is administered by the Department of Community Health which is accepting applications for the program. The card is being accepted by some 2300 state pharmacies.
Ballot Proposals — Voters will decide on two statewide ballot proposals in November. The first proposal, 04-1, is a “proposal to amend the state constitution to require voter approval of any form of gambling authorized by law and certain new state lottery games.” This proposal, if approved, would require after January l’ 2004, statewide voter approval for any form of state sanctioned gambling and approval of the voters in the local governmental jurisdiction where such gambling will take place. Passage of the proposal would not affect Indian Tribe gambling or gambling in up to three casinos in Detroit.
The second proposal, 04-2 is a proposal to “amend the state Constitution to specify what can be recognized as a ’marriage or similar union’ for any purpose.” This proposal would provide that “the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose.”
Voters will be asked to vote yes or no on whether each proposal shall be adopted.
New Weekly Political Newsletter — A weekly newsletter providing major political news about the Midwestern states has been created. This newsletter covers national political activities in the so- called “battleground” states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota, and Iowa. The newsletter can be accessed by computer at: www.midwestpolitics.com.
People in the News
James Farrell, a veteran personnel executive in state government, has been named State Personnel Director by the Civil Service Commission. He has been a state employee since 1989 and served some three years as Human Resources Director for the Department of Transportation. His most recent job was as Director of the Human Resources Services Bureau in the Department of Civil Service.
Gloria Jeff, Director of the Department of Transportation, was given the A.D. Gathier Leadership Award by the National Highway Administration. The award is given every two years to recognize the achievement by someone in the field in reducing discrimination.
Steve Adamini, a state representative from Marquette, was arrested in East Lansing for drunk driving after he was involved in an automobile accident.
Betsy DeVos, Chairperson of the state Republican Party, was appointed by President Bush to the board of directors of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Joseph Jackson, who served as a Democrat state representative from Highland Park for four terms in the late fifties and early sixties, died at the age of 97. Mr. Jackson was the oldest member of the Legislative Retirement System.
Editor’s note: Alvin Whitfield is former President of the Lansing SERA Chapter and former Chairperson of the Michigan SERA Council and current Legislative Representative for both the Council and the Lansing Chapter. He may be contacted at 1241 Runaway Bay Drive, C-3, Lansing, Michigan 48917; phone 517/703-9666; e-mail: email@example.com.
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