It is financial crunch time in Lansing! The one-time financial “fixes” have been exhausted, partisan political positions have become more entrenched, the overall fiscal crisis has worsened, each side is staking out its position for political gain, and the current year budget deficit deepens not to mention what is going to be the impact of the fiscal crisis on the 2007-08 budget which is now being considered. Confusion abounds! Don’t despair though. State government will continue.
The current fiscal year budget is out of balance at least some $900 million with the estimated shortfall for 2008 fiscal year being $3 billion dollars. Obviously something must be done. The question is what and how. The Republicans believe further cuts should be made before enacting revenue enhancement (tax) measures. The Governor believes the solution lies in a threefold approach: tax increases, some reductions in spending, and a restructuring of the state’s economy through incentive programs. The Emergency Financial Advisory Panel named by the Governor to recommend solutions, leans toward the Governor’s approach.
The Governor issued Executive Orders to fix the current year problems which the Senate Appropriations Committee immediately rejected. So it is now “return to the drawing board” for the Governor. Regarding the 2007-08 budget, the Governor has recommended a number of severe measures including reducing the number of State Police through layoffs, closing several prisons beginning with the recently announced closing of the Southern Michigan Facility, and recalculating of the actuarial cost of the various retirement systems in order to reduce the state agency payment to the systems. For example, the value of the State Employees Retirement System portfolio is being adjusted to market value as of September 30, 2006 with the “smoothing” (five year averaging) approach being temporarily eliminated. This will allow for the actuarially determined amount each state agency has to pay into the system for retirement benefits to be reduced for a saving of several hundred million dollars. This action will not affect retiree pensions.
Despite all the infighting and confusion over the fiscal crisis and how to eliminate current and future deficits, the legislature still found time to address some bills which may be of interest to seniors/retirees:
HBs 4044-46 are bills intended to put Michigan residents on an equal footing with residents of other states regarding lawsuits against drug companies. Under current law, there is a prohibition against Michigan residents suing a drug company for perceived harm from a prescription drug if the drug was approved by the Federal Drug Administration. This prohibition has been in effect since 1996. HB 4044 would remove this restriction and allow drug companies to be sued. HB 4045 would make the ability to sue retroactive for three years. HB 4046 would add to the list of deceptive business practices under the Michigan Consumer Protection Act the following: “Failing to accurately represent the risks involved in the intended use of a prescription drug or over the-counter drug or medication or an herbal product, dietary supplement, or botanical extract.” These bills have passed the House and gone to the Senate Committee on Judiciary.
SB 1 is a bill intended to provide incentives to those individuals covered by Medicaid for changing their lifestyles and adopting healthy living practices. The idea is to make these individuals healthier and thereby reduce the cost of the Medicaid program. Individuals covered by the Medicaid program could realize reductions in premiums, co-pays, or other benefits or could receive expanded benefits if they chose to participate in specified positive health behaviors such as smoking cessation, participating in health risk assessment programs, compliance with medical treatment, exercise, keeping scheduled medical appointments, prenatal visits, attendance at recommended health education programs. The bill also creates pay for performance incentives for contracted Medicaid health maintenance organizations among other incentives. The bill has passed the Senate and gone to the House Committee on Health Policy.
SBs 284-85 are bills dealing with automated political telephone calls, the so called robocalls. SB 285 would require a website communication for a candidate to identify the person paying for it and indicate whether the payment was authorized by a candidate or candidate committee, revise the disclaimer that must appear on a paid television or radio advertisement that relates to a candidate and is not an independent expenditure. The bill would also include satellite advertisement in identifying statement and disclaimer requirements which apply to paid ads and indicate whether it was paid with regulated funds. The bill has passed the Senate and is now in the House Committee on Campaign and Elections Oversight.
HB 4313 would prohibit state agency heads and top state elected officials from engaging in lobbying activities for one year after they leave their official positions. The intent is obvious: to reduce undue political influence based on past established associations. The bill has passed the House and has gone to the Senate Committee on Campaign and Elections Oversight.
HB 4065 is a bill which makes a dog owner or person having custody of the dog fleeing the scene of a dog bite incident a misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $500 or not more than 93 days in jail. Under the bill, a dog owner or person who has custody of the dog is obligated to remain at the scene and render assistance and provide certain information if his/her dog or wolf-dog cross bites another person. Should the owner not be present when a person is bitten, the owner or person who had custody of the dog or wolf-dog cross would have to contact the person bitten and provide certain information. The bill has passed the House and gone to the Senate Committee on Judiciary.
HB 4317 is a recently introduced bill which would prohibit the sale of gift cards with expiration dates. It would also prohibit the sale of gift cards which have a reduction in value based on the length of time before it is used. Free gift cards which have expiration dates or time-related reduction in value could be given to consumers under the bill.
2007 State Income Tax Filing Deadlin — The deadline for filing state income tax returns has been extended to April 17th to make it consistent with the federal government filing deadline. Inasmuch as April 15 falls on Sunday and April 16 is a holiday in the District of Columbia, the federal government set the filing date for April 17.
Law Review Commission — This state body has been busy reviewing state statutes which must be revised as the result of the passage of Proposal 2, the anti-affirmative action Constitutional amendment. References to public affirmative action hiring programs, contracting programs, and university admissions procedures based on race and sex must be deleted from current laws. The Commission’s report will then go to the legislature for action.
Low Income Home Heating Assistance — Governor Granholm has joined the governors of thirty-four other states in asking congress to increase funding for this program. The President’s budget for the current year and the next fiscal year reduces the federal funds significantly for this program. Legislative bodies and governors are imploring congress to restore the full funding for the program.
State Travel Guide — Travel Michigan, the state tourism agency, has issued its 2007 travel guide which suggests places to visit within Michigan. The guide, entitled Michigan Travel Ideas, is available at no cost at any of the state’s 13 Travel Centers or on the website www.Michigan.org or by calling 888-784-7328.
Legislative Pay — According to Gongwer News Service, the pay of Michigan legislators has increased 13% over the last 30 years when the rate of inflation is factored in. In 1975, the legislative pay using inflation adjusted dollars would have been $70,349. The actual current legislative pay is $79,349. Of nine states having fulltime legislators, Michigan ranks second to California ($110,880) in legislative salaries according to the report.
People in the News
Phil Stoddard, a veteran employee of the Office of Retirement Services, was named a Senior Deputy Director of DMB and Executive Director of the Office of Retirement Systems. Stoddard replaces Chris DeRose who left for a similar position in Ohio.
Diane Byrum, who recently left the legislature because of term limits, has announced that she is forming a communications company. The company will be known as Byrum and Fisk Advocacy Communications. Her associate is Mark Fisk who left his post as Director of House Communications to join Ms. Byrum.
Gary Peters, currently director of the Lottery has expressed an interest in running for the U.S. Congress in two years. If he does run, he will seek the Oakland County seat currently held by Representative Joe Knollenberg, a Republican who squeaked out a victory last November.
Andrew Anthos, a colorful figure who campaigned long and hard to have the Capitol lit with red, white, and blue lights died recently as the result of being beaten after he got off of a Detroit bus when he affirmatively answered a man’s question as to whether he was gay. Anthos will be remembered as the man who stood on downtown streets holding a “Light the Capitol” sign. He was a popular figure in the late eighties and early nineties because of his public advocacy for this cause.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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