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Budget top of mind as Legislature returns to Capitol

Michigan House of Representatives
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Michigan House of Representatives

The Legislature is back at the Capitol Tuesday with an eye toward making progress on the next state budget

That’s important because the state’s fiscal year begins October 1st. But school districts, community colleges, public universities and local governments all have budget years that begin in only two months. And they all rely heavily on state funding.

“I’m really hopeful we can get the education budget done early so that our districts can make their school year budgets before their fiscal year starts, which is in the middle of summer, as they prepare for the next school year,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer at an event Monday in Flint.

Whitmer said she expects the Legislature will pick up the pace on budget activity – noting Democrats are in the majority for the first time in many years and have a crowded agenda.

“Things are moving quickly,” Whitmer said. “I think they got more done in their first 100 days than probably any legislature has gotten done in their whole term in the last couple of decades.”

Those earlier Democratic priorities included repealing the state’s “right-to-work” law and the statutory ban on most abortion procedures, adding LGBTQ protections to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act and adopting stricter gun laws. Whitmer has already signed most of those into law.

The budget will present more opportunities for Democrats to cement their priorities into policy by fusing them with dollars.

“Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, those budget bills are often used beyond so many dollars for this, but it’s those strings that are attached that can add significant policy impacts, as well, outside of just appropriating money,” said Robert Schneider, a budget expert with the non-partisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan.

Republicans will almost certainly use the budget process to offer amendments that draw contrasts with Democrats on policies including abortion, LGBTQ rights and what schools are allowed to teach on race and gender.

Those fights will play out dollar by dollar as lawmakers have an anticipated $33.8 billion in the state’s General Fund and School Aid Fund to work with.

Steve Carmody contributed to this report

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