MIRS provides comprehensive news and analysis of state government delivered in written reports detailing the activities of the House, Senate, Judicial and Executive branches of Michigan state government.
Michigan News And Capitol Report, Week Ending Fri., July 12, 2019
VNP 'Actively Looking' At Term Limits For Possible Ballot Drive
Term limits reform -- either extending or eliminating them -- is among the ideas being considered by Voters Not Politicians (VNP) as the group mulls running a ballot proposal campaign again for either 2020 or 2022.
VNP Executive Director Nancy Wang said Friday that term limits are "definitely on the list" of "good government, pro-democracy reforms" the group is considering for a potential petition drive. The committee hopes to make a decision on whether or not to pursue another campaign by this fall.
Wang said "a lot of people have expressed" that the state's legislative term limits law is "one of the main impediments of a functional state government," adding that, "we're actively looking into it right now."
To that, Patrick Anderson -- who helped write the term limits amendment approved by voters in 1992 – said, "I seriously doubt they've heard working people in Michigan say that term limits are an 'impediment to functional government.'"
Anderson said "working people expect the state government to fix the roads and run better schools" and that term limits don't prevent them from doing those things.
"Gretchen Whitmer wouldn't have been elected if her slogan was 'remove impediments to functional government,'" Anderson said, adding, "If VNP wants to change term limits, they'll have to change their name, too. How about 'PNV: Politicians Not Voters?'"
Wang said term limits are on the front burner again thanks to this year's Mackinac Policy Conference, a reference to Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) announcing his interest in putting term limit reform before voters in 2022.
Asked if VNP would join forces with Shirkey, Wang said her group would "welcome a dialogue" and would be happy to work "on any issues with any partners on solutions that benefit all voters.
"So certainly, if Sen. Shirkey wants to . . . really tackle this issue and come up with a solution that's fair for all Michiganders, regardless of party, then yes, absolutely," she said.
Asked if the feeling is mutual, Shirkey spokesperson Amber McCann said Friday he'd "be willing discuss the merits of a term limits reform with any interested party" because "it's a policy reform that deserves consideration."
Other topics VNP is looking at include areas like ethics and transparency, "anti-corruption" measures, and initiatives aimed at making everyone's vote count and reducing the influence of money in politics.
Asked specifically about requiring financial disclosures from public officials, Wang said VNP is working to get a bill package on the matter through the Legislature.
VNP led the 2018 passage of the independent redistricting commission amendment to the state constitution, winning with 61 percent of the vote after the group said it collected 425,000+ signatures entirely with volunteers.
The group says its volunteer army hasn't gone away. VNP has already signed up 1,500 people who said they'd be interested in serving on the redistricting commission.
VNP's latest campaign finance statement from April showed the group has $90,714 left in the bank. The committee attracted millions from national groups in the final stretch of its 2018 campaign, pulling $13.8 million in the last quarter before the election, including $10.6 million from two out-of-state non-profits.
Using New Gas Tax Revenue For Locals Discussed
Senate Republicans discussed the prospects Tuesday of using the new gas tax created to replace the suggested elimination of sales tax on gasoline to fund local roads, sources tell MIRS.
The House Republicans moved a budget premised on the idea that the 6-cent sales tax stop being collected on gasoline and that a penny-for-penny gas tax or excise tax be installed in its place to collect close to a $1 billion in in road revenue.
Roughly speaking, this would be a 15-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase.
During a conference call with the Senate Republican caucus, the idea of steering this money to cities, villages and townships with their roads with this increase was characterized as a tax shift, not a tax increase.
The idea of raising the gasoline tax over the size of the sales tax on gasoline amount was "a very limited discussion and it was pretty much dismissed," according to a source. A surcharge on registration fees was also kicked around.
Another option being discussed was creating a local option to raise revenue for road dollars that would stay in the community. The Senate Republicans are not interested in the House Republicans' smorgasbord of cuts to replace the $800 million lost to the School Aid Fund and General Fund by scrapping the sales tax on gas, which explains the interest in refinancing the school retirement system.
The rare conference call by Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) was an opportunity to brief the caucus on Wednesday's three-hour meeting with House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) without having everyone drive to Lansing.
There were not a lot of questions in the phone exchange and no final decisions were made other than to come back in a week or two to see where they are.
The Senate Republican caucus has two committees working this issue. The policy group is headed by Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Potterville) and the appropriations or money group chaired by Sen. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City).
Barrett brought up the problems the Legislature has had over the years with the Michigan Department of Transportation and he was talking about giving lawmakers "more authority and checks and balances" over the road agency and putting performance benchmarks in place upon which the department could be judged.
The Senate chambers, the Senate Majority Leader's offices and the House Appropriations Committee room are now shut down in the Capitol as crews continue the inside renovation project.
Chatfield, Shirkey Meet For 'Productive' 3 Hours
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) emerged from House Speaker Lee Chatfield's (R-Levering) office around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday after a three-hour meeting on finding more road improvement money and the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 budget.
While the meeting with senior staff was described as "productive" by those involved, there's no final intra-legislative deal House and Senate leaders want to take to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as part of a united front, yet.
"We're making good progress. I've been in constant communication with Leader Shirkey over the past few weeks and I can say that every conversation we have, we get one step closer to having a responsible roads solution," Chatfield said.
Asked how many more meetings he envisions having, Chatfield said, "As many as it takes until we get it done."
Shirkey Press Secretary Amber McCann decline to gauge by percentage how near completion the first stage of budget negotiations are going, but did say, "They are having productive meetings."
On Monday, Shirkey did confirm that refinancing a portion of the state's roughly $30 billion public teacher pension obligation will be part of the road funding plan, likely to backfill the $800 million hole in the School Aid Fund and General Fund created by taking the sales tax off gasoline and replacing it penny-for-penny with a higher gas tax.
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Ad Board Could See 400 More Contracts A Year Under Lower Review Standard
The State Administrative Board (SAB) may have to meet more often to accommodate the estimated 400 more contracts a year it'd have to review under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's proposal to drop the minimum threshold required for review from $500,000 to $250,000.
The SAB Finance & Claims Committee Tuesday approved a resolution setting $250,000 as the bar for contract and contract amendments to go before the SAB for approval. The resolution next goes to the full SAB at its meeting this week for final approval.
The resolution, requested by the Governor's office, undoes a previously approved resolution under former Gov. Rick Snyder's administration that bumped the threshold from $250,000 to $500,000.
Caleb Buhs, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB), said the department is projecting 400 more contracts would need to go before the SAB for approval under the new threshold.
"To accommodate this increase, consideration is being given to holding more frequent Ad Board meetings," he said. The SAB typically meets every other week, with the SAB committees typically held on the weeks between those meetings.
The resolution would keep the contract review threshold at $500,000 for contracts or amendments procured through the Michigan Supplier Community Program, which Buhs said is a proposed program to allow procurement professionals -- with the approval of DTMB's Central Procurement -- to directly engage registered suppliers to obtain at least three written quotes for purchases less than $500,000.
Suppliers eligible for the program would include state-based small businesses, Michigan Geographically-Disadvantaged Business Enterprises, Michigan Veteran and/or Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Business Enterprises, and Michigan Recognized Community Rehabilitation Organization, Buhs said.
The program would "dramatically streamline these sourcing events," Buhs said, saving both time and eliminating administrative burdens on small businesses.
6 House Dems 'Disappointed' Nessel Is Suing Over Line 5
Six of the House Democrats who supported legislation that started the wheels turning on a utility tunnel under the Straits of Mackinac asked Attorney General Dana Nessel to essentially back off from her legal fight to toss the law into the trash can.
In a letter penned Thursday, the six Dems argue that PA 359, the former SB 1197, was a "reasonable compromise" to get the dual light crude oil pipeline known as Line 5 off the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac and put into a tunnel 100 feet below the lake bed.
Trying to shut down Line 5 through protracted litigation "actually guarantees the status quo," they wrote, arguing the lawsuit will "create a lengthy, expensive legal battle that could take a decade or more to decide, all the while leaving an aging pipeline lying on the bed of the Straits of Mackinac."
"Anybody who thinks this lawsuit is going to be quick and easy are not familiar with how hard a major corporation can fight in civil court," said Rep. Brian Elder (D-Bay City). "I don't want to wake up 10 years from now with that pipeline still sitting on the Straits of Mackinac because of pending litigation."
Joining Elder in the letter were Reps. Tenisha Yancey (D-Detroit), Wendell Byrd (D-Detroit), John Chirkun (D-Roseville), Terry Sabo (D-Muskegon) and Sara Cambensy (D-Marquette). They were all among the 14 House Democrats to vote in support of SB 1197, which created the authority charged with reaching a deal with Enbridge on the utility tunnel in December.
Despite the letter, Nessel's office is moving forward with its legal efforts to decommission Line 5, said spokesperson Kelly Rossman-McKinney. The Attorney General argues that PA 359 violates the constitutional subject-title clause.
"We have an obligation and a responsibility to preserve and protect our Great Lakes basin and Line 5's continued presence is a looming threat to all of us," Rossman-McKinney said.
Elder said he has a "great deal of respect for the Attorney General" and said she's "doing an outstanding job," but he believes a mistake is being made by Nessel in pursuing the lawsuit to invalidate SB 1197 and stop the tunnel.
Line 5 is a source of 540,000 barrels a day of propane and light crude to Michigan and surrounding areas, "producing transportation fuels and consumer goods, ranging from computers to clothing and cellphones."
"Our friends in organized labor and these affected union members need to see that they're not alone in this battle," he said.
Clean Water Action's Michigan Program Organizer Sean McBearty said he was "alarmed" to see Elder's statement to urge Nessel to "abdicate her constitutional duty as a public trustee of the Great Lakes" by dropping the suit.
Clean Water Action edited the Elder letter to read, "Our natural resources and our economy are too important to jeopardize with political grandstanding, but Enbridge and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce have asked us to grandstand and money talks in politics so here we are."