Detroit Regional Chamber > Advocacy > June 28, 2024 | This Week in Government: Democrats Jam Budget, Blitz of Bills As Legislature Leaves

June 28, 2024 | This Week in Government: Democrats Jam Budget, Blitz of Bills As Legislature Leaves

June 28, 2024
Detroit Regional Chamber Presents This Week in Government, powered by Gongwer, Michigan's home for Policy and Politics news since 1906

Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, provides members with a collection of timely updates from both local and state governments. Stay in the know on the latest legislation, policy priorities, and more.

Democrats Jam Budget, Blitz of Bills As Legislature Leaves

One of the lightest legislative years in memory roared to life Wednesday and then on toward dawn Thursday as the Democratic majority in the Legislature blasted the 2024-25 fiscal year budget through to passage just eight hours after it began to publicly leak and approved an avalanche of major bills.

The budget, at $82.52 billion ($14.88 billion General Fund), was kept under wraps until the last moment. As has been the case in recent years, it will take some time to unpack what’s in the budget and review the changes.

Overall, there was little specific controversy over the budget for state departments, community colleges, and higher education. The most heated controversy was on the K-12 budget and what to do regarding payments into the retiree health care portion of the Michigan Public School Employees’ Retirement System (see separate story).

The House passed the K-12 budget (HB 5507) at 1:42 a.m. on a 56-54 party-line vote. The Senate followed suit just before 5 a.m. on a 20-18 party-line vote. The Senate passed the budget for state departments and agencies (SB 747) at 4:32 a.m. on a 21-17 mostly party-line vote. The House then passed the Departments and Agencies omnibus budget bill at 5:10 a.m. on a 56-54 party-line vote.

As budget work went on behind the scenes, the Democratic legislative majority uncorked an explosion of policy legislation after months of relative inaction, particularly in the House.

Passing Wednesday evening and in the pre-dawn hours Thursday:

  • The first-ever passage by the Senate of expansion of the Freedom of Information Act to the governor’s office and the Legislature;
  • Moving the state health insurance marketplace to a state exchange instead of the federal exchange;
  • A package of bills designed to improve maternal health;
  • Prohibiting discrimination in housing based on income;
  • Pawnbroker interest rate regulations;
  • A prohibition on the “gay panic” defense in criminal cases;
  • Extending the prevailing wage law to solar and wind energy projects;
  • Loosening the rules for medically frail prisoners to receive parole to increase eligibility;
  • Allowing home care workers to unionize.

The House and Senate adjourned until July 30, though it would be a surprise to see sessions held that day with the Aug. 6 primary looming.

The budget will take time to analyze. School superintendents warned legislators the budget would mean layoffs.

Senate Republicans did provide the six votes necessary to grant the bill immediate effect, with Sen. Ed McBroom of Vulcan (the one yes vote on the budget) voting with Sen. Jon Bumstead of North Muskegon, Sen. Kevin Daley of Lum, Sen. John Damoose of Harbor Springs, Sen. Mark Huizenga of Walker and Sen. Michael Webber of Rochester Hills.

Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Township) pointed to the $9 billion budget surplus Democrats inherited when they took control of the Legislature in 2023, which was spent down in one year.

Nesbitt said those funds could have been spent on long-term infrastructure improvements, improving education, or paying down debt.

“That could have been transformational for so many of the needs of this state,” Nesbitt said. “None of that’s happened. Instead, we’ve seen it blown on corporate handouts, left-wing pet projects, and on a public relations campaign of a certain governor’s shadow campaign for president.”

Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) said she was proud of the product before them Thursday morning.

“Last year, we focused our first budget on transformation, and this year, we focused on continuation,” Brinks said. “We are continuing to build on the historic progress we made last year, and with the passage of this budget in front of us today, together, we are building up Michigan.”

Sen. Rick Outman (R-Six Lakes) disagreed, saying members had little time to look at the budget before being forced to vote on it shortly after 4 a.m.

“It’s not wise, it’s not good government, and it is certainly lacking some serious sunshine,” Outman said.

House Speaker Joe Tate, asked about the partisan votes, told reporters after the session that it was “unfortunate” the budget couldn’t get bipartisan support.

“We feel like we were continuing to move the state forward, working in good faith, but we’re excited about the budget we passed,” he said.

Rep. Sarah Lightner (R-Springport), the House Appropriations Committee minority vice chair, blamed the Whitmer administration for the partisan nature of the budget.

“Our relationship, and the conversations between Rep. Witwer, and myself and our caucuses were productive, and I would say that the executive was a challenge,” she said. “We just couldn’t get there this year … And again, this year, we got no amendments. We put up over 200 amendments to different budget bills. Nothing was given to us, and that’s not how negotiations work.”

Some Republicans put a positive spin on a budget they weren’t pleased with.

“I’m really pleased about the votes the Democrats have had to take over the past few days,” Rep. Mike Hoadley (R-Au Gres) said. “It’s almost going to assure a Republican victory in November.”

New Senate Map: Partisan Status Quo, Wild Geographic Changes

A Detroit-area Senate map adopted Wednesday by the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission offers a fairly stable plan from a partisan standpoint but includes some radical geographic changes for the members across 15 amended districts.

The plan – called Crane A1 – also includes no matchups among incumbents eligible for reelection and cuts up Detroit across four districts, with all but a tiny corner of the city split between three districts, which could raise concerns later regarding how those new Detroit districts are concentrated with Black voters.

But for now, the adoption of the map moves the commission another step closer to fulfilling the court order that brought them back to the drawing board early this year.

The commission was ordered by a federal three-judge panel late last year to redraw its Detroit-area House and Senate maps after the court found that the group violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause because it predominantly considered race when drawing those seats.

The 2024 Motown Sound House map, adopted by the commission and approved by the court earlier this year, replaced the 2021 Hickory House map.

Crane A1 will replace the 2021 Linden Senate map if the court accepts the commission’s work. The map must be submitted to the three-judge panel on Thursday, and the panel has said that it would issue a ruling to approve or reject the commission’s work by late July.

Much like the Motown Sound map, the Crane map made changes focused on Detroit and its surrounding areas – outstate districts remain unchanged from the Linden configuration.

In a news conference following the adoption of the Crane map, Chair Anthony Eid (I-Canton) was asked if the commission felt the map satisfied the court’s order.

“Throughout this Senate remedial process, we followed the same process that we underwent when creating the Motown Sound remedial plan, and both the person who the person who the court appointed to evaluate (Motown Sound), and eventually the court itself, affirmed what the commission decided,” Eid said. “So, because we followed the same process, it is our expectation that a similar result will happen; that the court will affirm the (Crane) map that the commission adopted.”

The main features of the Crane A1 map:

  • Detroit is divided between four districts, but principally three, one of which might prove challenging for Sen. Mary Cavanagh(D-Redford Township) instead of the current eight;
  • New open seats in suburban Wayne County, one anchored in Dearborn, the other in Canton Township;
  • A reworking of northern and western Oakland County and northern Macomb County to produce a northern Macomb County-heavy district where no incumbent currently lives;
  • Stability for four swing district incumbents: Sen. Darrin Camilleri(D-Brownstown Township), Sen. Michael Webber (R-Rochester Hills), Sen. Veronica Klinefelt (D-Eastpointe), and Sen. Kevin Hertel (D-St. Clair Shores);
  • The opportunity for Republicans to pick up a seat with Sen. Rosemary Bayer(D-Keego Harbor) pushed westward into a competitive district.

Looking at U.S. Voting Rights Act compliance, the Crane map has four performing districts that offer Black voters a strong opportunity to elect their candidate of choice.

Those districts include the 3rd District, on the east side of the city abutting the Grosse Pointes and Lake St. Clair-centric 12th District, which also includes Hamtramck and Highland Park; the 1st District, comprising the heart of the city’s downtown area and its Downriver suburbs to the south; the 6th District comprising the city’s westside neighborhoods; and the 7th District, which connects Southfield with Pontiac north of Eight Mile Road.

Former Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo had become the de facto spokesperson for the plaintiffs in Agee v. Benson, the court case that invalidated the Hickory House and Linden Senate plans.

Gay-Dagnogo organized forces of Detroit residents to give public comment throughout the process, reminding the commission of their charge and the court’s order. She also led the groups advocating for the Crane A1 map when it became one of 12 maps advanced by the commission as a draft map.

She did not issue an official statement on Wednesday evening, but on Facebook, she thanked those who weighed in and praised the fact that “Crane A1 prevailed!”

In terms of the partisan lean of that map, it may be more status quo than some expected.

The Crane map has a lopsided margin score of 5.1%, offering Democrats a potential winning margin of 63.6% versus the GOP’s potential average winning margin of 58.5%, based on major election results over the past decade. This margin leans Republican, however.

Crane has a mean-median partisan fairness score of 2.9% leaning Republican, with Democrats netting a potential district median percentage of 50.8% to the GOP’s 49.2% and with Democrats potentially having a statewide mean of 53.7% to the GOP’s 46.3%.

Republican candidates have an efficiency gap advantage of 1.8%, with the Democratic voters potentially wasting 25.9% of the total votes cast to GOP voters wasting 24% of the total votes cast.

Crane also has a seats-to-votes ratio of 2.4%, with the Democrats netting 21 seats and the Republicans getting 17 based on past election data.

Setting those numbers aside, the fundamental dynamics of the current map – nine seats that favor Democrats, two for Republicans, and four tossup seats – are essentially the same in the new one. The only difference is that Klinefelt won’t have as solidly a Democratic district as the other eight Democratic-favored seats, but it’s still much better for her than her current seat.

If Republicans expected a map that would have a chance to knock out Klinefelt and pick up a seat, that might be a lot harder under Crane A1 – conceivable but more difficult.

Of the 15 Senate districts altered, there are currently 12 Democrats and three Republicans. The district of the Democrat with the most Republican tilting district, Sen. Kevin Hertel (D-St. Clair Shores), is unchanged. In effect, Klinefelt and Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Keego Harbor) will swap places, with Klinefelt having a safer Democratic district and Bayer moving to the tossup column.

The question for Republicans would be who they feel they have a better chance to beat: Bayer or Klinefelt?

A look at the 2020 presidential results in those districts might help, but the Trump-Biden contest numbers for Klinefelt’s district are nearly the same as Bayer’s new district. Still, it’s not necessarily a cause for celebration for either party.

Klinefelt goes from a Biden 51% to Trump 48% district to a Biden 53% and Trump 45% district – a subtle but big enough change that helps her. If the Republicans were able to unseat Bayer, it’s possible that Klinefelt remains in good shape.

Camilleri’s district has no real change from a partisan standpoint.

Webber’s district has minimal change, which makes it a tiny bit more challenging. That’s good news for the Republicans because the other map variations fared far worse for Webber.

Bayer said Wednesday she plans to remain in her district, pointing out that her husband is a stroke survivor and the last move ahead of the 2022 cycle was very hard on him and is not something she plans on doing again. The new map would allow her to move back to Beverly Hills, where she was based from 2019-22, and represent a solidly Democratic district. But Bayer nixed the idea.

“We need to look at the map as a whole, not just at my district … the whole idea is to make sure it’s fair,” Bayer said in an interview. “What I heard is it’s supposed to be 51% Dem, so hopefully it’s winnable.”

The senator has experience in winning close races, winning in a district that was Republican-leaning in 2018 by about a 0.8 percentage point margin. In 2022, she was redistricted into a district with another Democratic incumbent. She moved a short distance to the neighboring district, a more Democrat district, and won by a 14-point margin.

When asked about how difficult it has been under redistricting to have her district change every time she runs, Bayer said: “I’ll get famous for (being) the one who kept getting hard districts and was still winning.”

Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Township), in a statement, said Senate Republicans will take a closer look at the new map soon.

“We look forward to reviewing in detail what the commission has adopted, as well as the opinion of the court,” Nesbitt said. “It’s just a shame that Democrats continue to jam through a far-left, partisan agenda with these current, racially gerrymandered districts.”

VOTE PROCESS WENT DOWN TO THE WIRE: The adoption of the Crane map on Wednesday was no easy task.

The commission had, for the better part of the week, debated, argued, and voted several times without reaching a consensus on which map to advance.

Michigan’s Constitution dictates that a map can only be adopted if it has affirmative votes from two Democrats, two Republicans, and at least two politically unaffiliated members.

The Crane map emerged as the clear favorite on Tuesday, but only one Democrat – Juanita Curry of Detroit – voted in favor of the map. The other three Democrats – Elaine Andrade, Donna Callaghan, and Brittni Kellom – held the line and voted primarily for the Kellom map.

Callaghan flipped her vote once to support a map created by Commissioner Rebecca Szetela (I-Canton) but eventually flipped back to support the Kellom map in the fifth and final round of consensus voting.

That moved the method to ranked-choice voting, where the Crane map eventually prevailed with 43 votes.

Of note, Andrade and Chair Anthony Eid (I-Orchard Lake), who had also been in favor of the Kellom map in subsequent voting rounds before flipping, listed the Crane map as a top choice, giving it enough momentum to become the adopted 2024 plan.

House Expands UI Weeks, Prevailing Wage For Clean Energy

Michigan residents would be eligible for six additional weeks of unemployment under legislation passed by the House on Wednesday.

HB 5827 was introduced last week and immediately placed on a second reading. The bill, which had no committee hearing, passed the House 56-54.

Michigan changed the length of time people could be on unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 20 weeks in 2011. This legislation restores it to the previous amount.

“We’re just bringing back something that needed to be there in the first place,” said Rep. Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit), who sponsored the bill. “It’s a no-nonsense bill.”

Republicans said it was unfair to move the legislation without proper debate and that change would hurt small business owners.

“The cost of this to business owners isn’t small,” Rep. Timmy Beson (R-Bay City) said during a floor speech. “I’ve never lost a claim, and I pride myself in making sure that employees know exactly what needs to be done, what they need to do, and what the consequences are. A good business does this.”

Rep. William Bruck (R- Erie) also spoke in opposition to the bill.

“This is a tax on small businesses. Period. Twenty-six weeks is six months. Twenty weeks is four and a half months. It doesn’t sound like a big difference, but it’s a huge difference,” he said. “This increase from 20 to 26 will increase the amount that I have to pay as a business owner.”

The National Federation of Independent Business also criticized the vote.

“When small business owners continue to struggle to find workers and survive a difficult economic climate, this legislation is a slap in the face,” NFIB Michigan State Director Amanda Fisher said in a statement. “Currently, there are around 400,000 open positions in Michigan. According to the NFIB Research Center, the top concern of small businesses is finding workers who are qualified and willing to work. In fact, in the May survey, 42% (seasonally adjusted) of small business owners reported job openings they could not fill.”

The Detroit Regional Chamber, the Grand Rapids Chamber, the Michigan Chamber, the Michigan Manufacturers Association, and the Small Business Association of Michigan also opposed the legislation, calling it a “vehicle bill for mischief” in an opposition letter sent to the House.

“Michigan cannot afford a large benefit increase without pushing the system beyond its capabilities and into insolvency,” the letter said.

Business organizations hoped that the House would hold off on the vote until the UIA recovered from the fraud and abuse it experienced during the pandemic and the recent reforms have proven effective.

Whitsett said she thought it was important to move on the legislation prior to summer recess because union members might face unemployment due to the changing seasons.

“I think about all the union workers, and I think about the seasons coming up and how they change and the fact that a lot of them get laid off at that time, and they really look for this and need it,” she said. “It was just very important to address it before we start getting into that time of season where it will take us longer to get it addressed.”

Despite the House’s action on Wednesday, the Senate will not be able to take up the legislation until the Legislature returns from summer recess.

It’s unclear how much expanding unemployment benefits would cost the state, but the increase would be based on the usage of the additional six weeks of benefits by eligible unemployed people. As of June 24, the unemployment trust fund balance was $2.67 billion, according to a House Fiscal Analysis.

Fisher said that unemployment benefits are completely funded by employers through payroll taxes, saying employers pay more in taxes when there is not enough money in the UI Trust Fund or if employees are allowed to claim benefits when they should not.

She went on to cite problems with the Unemployment Insurance Agency during the pandemic as a reason unemployment benefits should not be expanded.

“The egregious and irresponsible mismanagement of employer funds by the UIA during the pandemic has never been appropriately rectified and leaves employers in a precarious situation when it comes to UI taxes if there is an economic downturn,” she said. “Instead of passing legislation that could raise taxes on small businesses, the legislative majorities should focus on UIA oversight. Tightening up job search and acceptance requirements, employing adequate fraud protection, and matching jobless workers with positions that fit their background would go a long way to prevent the need for an extension of benefits.”

Whitsett said she was also interested in legislation that would expand the number of family members that could be included in an unemployment claim and increase the average weekly benefit.

The House also passed SB 571, which would extend Michigan’s prevailing wage requirements to solar and wind energy projects. The bill passed 56-54 along party lines.

FOIA Expansion For Legislature, Governor’s Office Gets First Vote in Senate

For the first time in a decade of work by bill sponsors, a proposed expansion of the Freedom of Information Act to include the Legislature and the governor’s office was taken up Wednesday in the Senate and passed with wide bipartisan votes.

Bill sponsors and supporters said while the bill package was not perfect, members from both sides of the aisle said what was before them would provide long-overdue transparency to a state that has ranked near the bottom nationally by some groups for years in government transparency.

The two bills, SB 669 and SB 670 would expand FOIA to include the Legislature and governor’s office, with several exemptions. Both bills passed 36-2.

Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), the sponsor of SB 669, called it surreal to finally have the opportunity for a Senate vote on FOIA expansion after a decade of effort.

The senator spoke of his freshman term in the House when the sex scandal involving former Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat occurred, which was only unveiled by whistleblowers because legislative office records are not available under FOIA.

During the last decade, Moss said members have watched scandals play out in the Capitol that might not have happened “if we had a culture of transparency in this town” or if reporters had the tools to obtain more information on the workings of state government.

“These scandals happen in the dark because they could happen in the dark,” Moss said. “It’s a vicious cycle that we have to get out of. Michigan government just cannot sustain being one of the worst in the nation in terms of ethics and one of the only states that bans the public from accessing our records here.”

He praised the work with SB 670 sponsor Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) since their time in the House on getting the bills to where they were Wednesday.

“The last near-decade of working alongside the now-senator from the Upper Peninsula has been a masterclass for both of us, in making policy, making big policy, setting aside our partisan differences, to uplift our shared bipartisan values, our North Star of ethics, transparency, and accountability,” Moss said.

McBroom said he was pleased to be able to speak about the FOIA expansion proposal in the Senate for the first time. He outlined the years of work that went into getting to where the bills stood Wednesday, dating back to his first term serving in the House.

“There are still some concerns I have, and many people know that I preferred the model that we had introduced before with the Legislative Open Records Act, and I have serious concerns about the survivability of constitutional challenges that FOIA for the Legislature may have,” McBroom said.

Despite this, McBroom said the vote was a huge step for state government.

“Here we are, the opportunity to make a huge difference in transparency for Michigan,” McBroom said.

Prior to the votes, an S-2 floor substitute offered by Moss was adopted, and multiple changes were made.

The substitute expands the FOIA exemption for attorney-client communications to include attorney work products. This would put into statute a 1998 Court of Appeals decision. It also expands an exemption dealing with appointments to exempt records related to the process undertaken to select an individual for an appointment.

Another change was an expansion to the suspension and removal exemption to exempt records related to a suspension investigation.

Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Township) offered a floor amendment, which he said would make the appointment of a FOIA coordinator a bipartisan decision. He said the change would prevent partisan choices for FOIA coordinators. The amendment failed along party lines.

Nesbitt, prior to the vote on SB 670, said he still had concerns about some provisions of the bills but urged support for the package to ensure there is something in law to build upon.

“While I do have serious concerns with certain aspects of this proposal, I believe adopting these bills is important at this time,” Nesbitt said. “My hope is that we can continue to work on these issues during this session. … I look forward to making future reforms to ensure this proposal is not weaponized in a partisan fashion and is allowed to operate free of bias.”

Following the votes, there was a moment of levity as the Senate moved on to the next item on its agenda.

One of the window shades in the Senate chamber was opened, which caused rays of evening sunshine to glare on session staff at the rostrum at the front of the chamber while the session was ongoing.

Controversial K-12 Budget Passes Over School Objections

A K-12 school aid budget unlike any other received final passage just before 5 a.m. Thursday as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Democratic legislative leaders prevailed over a coalition of dismayed groups – traditionally Democratic allies – representing traditional public schools.

At about 1:42 a.m., the House, in surgical fashion, passed the education omnibus budget (HB 5507) for the 2024-25 fiscal year containing the spending plan for K-12 school aid on a 56-54 party-line vote. The Senate followed suit at 4:54 a.m. with a 20-18 vote. Enough Senate Republicans – though they lambasted the bill – supported immediate effect so the budget can take effect in time for the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year.

There had been considerable doubt on whether all 56 House Democrats would vote yes for a budget that – while still chock full of spending increases in some key areas – contains no increase in the per-pupil foundation allowance for traditional public schools but a 3.9 boost in foundation allowance for charter schools.

Instead of a per pupil increase, $598 million that would have gone toward the state’s payment into the retiree health care portion of the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System is redirected so that local school districts pay 5.75 percentage points less to MPSERS than otherwise required. That is more money than any of the per pupil increases that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the House, or the Senate recommended or passed.

The funding for mental health and school safety, which all districts receive, would plummet from $328 million to $26.5 million.

Despite those challenging aspects of the budget, it also contains several spending increases that appeared to sell Democrats on voting yes. It is, however, the first time that Whitmer will be unable to boast record funding for K-12 education, mainly because the COVID relief funds and now spent state revenue surge were appropriated in the current fiscal year and unavailable this time.

Total spending would be $20.64 billion ($78.8 million General Fund). That’s a 3.8% decrease from the current year (a 10.3% decrease in the General Fund).

Then, the House passed SB 911, which would adjust the state’s contribution to the other post-employment benefits portion of the Michigan Public Schools Employees Retirement System so it can be diverted to other school aid fund priorities.

The House passed the bill with an H-3 substitute.

Under the substitute, the state could reduce what it pays into MPSERS for retiree health care if there is no unfunded liability, as is forecast in 2025. Additionally, it provides for a reduction in the maximum local school districts must pay into MPSERS to 17.46% in the 2024-25 fiscal year, 17% in the 2025-26 fiscal year, 16% in the 2026-27 fiscal year, and then 15.21% in subsequent fiscal years.

“We’re giving them their money back,” Rep. Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth) said. “This is a historic investment in our schools, and we’re putting that money where it’s needed most: in the classroom.”

The bill passed 56-54. That bill’s future in the Senate also is an open question. It did not act on the House substitute before adjourning. It was not immediately clear if this would placate school organizations that were unhappy with the structure of the K-12 budget. Earlier in the day, they had an unusual exchange of criticism with the Whitmer administration on the budget.

House Republicans criticized the lack of foundation allowance increase for public schools during floor speeches prior to the vote.

“We’ve increased funding every year since 2012,” Rep. Nancy De Boer (R-Holland) said. “That critical funding gives our children updated schools, quality teachers, and desks that work. For this year, for the first time in a long time, there is no increase in the foundation allowance, but this isn’t because of a shortage of money.”

DeBoer went on to say that the budget didn’t prioritize education but rather chose to “raid the teacher’s retirement fund.”

“This plan is a broken promise to hardworking teachers,” she said.

Rep. Carol Glanville (D-Walker) spoke in support of the budget, saying it prioritized students.

“We’re putting more than $600 million back into classrooms,” she said. “The bottom line is this: Our students are our future. The nurses, lawyers, engineers, firefighters, electricians, plumbers, soldiers, teachers, and legislators of tomorrow are the students of today. When we put students first, we are investing in the future of our state.”

Funding for special education would increase by $365 million to $2.6 billion. Funding for literacy support programs would rise by $87 million. The budget also contains a $82.9 million increase in the at-risk category, bringing the funding to $1 billion.

Funding for the Great Start Readiness Program, the state’s preschool program for 4-year-olds, would go up by $85 million, boosting per-child funding for full-day programs to $10,185 and serving another 5,000 children. It is not the immediate phase-in of universal preschool the governor requested, instead setting an income threshold of no more than 400% of the federal poverty level for eligibility, though if not all slots are filled, those with household income above that number can enter the program.

The conference committee also backed the governor’s request for a $40 million gross increase (no General Fund) to bring to $200 million in funding for the universal school breakfast and lunch program.

House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) asked about the MPSERS change and said there “were a lot of conversations over several months” on how it would be done.

“We landed in a really good place,” he said. “As we go on, not only with this budget, we’re looking at the next steps – that’s going to be just as important for us.”

Six Senate Republicans quickly provided the needed votes to grant the bill immediate effect: Sen. Joseph Bellino of Monroe, Sen. Jon Bumstead of North Muskegon, Sen. Kevin Daley of Lum, Sen. Mark Huizenga of Walker, Sen. Ed McBroom of Vulcan and Sen. Michael Webber of Rochester Hills.

Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) called the education budget historic in all the wrong ways. She scoffed at the Democrats’ MPSERS proposal and the rationale for diverting funds.

“This is like celebrating paying off a credit card and going on a shopping spree when you still have six other credit cards fully maxed out,” Theis said. “It’s irresponsible, and it’s reckless.”

Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Township) said disappointment did not begin to describe the education budget, which he called a one-sided, partisan budget.

“The only thing you needed to compromise on, the only place where you needed to just give a little, was finding ways not to raid the $670 million a year from the teacher pension fund that was required to go to keep our promises to our retirees,” Nesbitt said.

Nesbitt pointed to education groups saying the budget would lead to teacher layoffs.

“Think about that: one year after you’re inheriting a $9 billion dollar surplus, this trifecta’s poised to pass a school budget with no foundation increase that will lead to teacher layoffs,” Nesbitt said. “Disaster is the only way to describe what is happening.”

Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) called the passage of the education budget significant for the state’s schoolchildren.

“This budget before us is a thoughtful and responsive budget to the real needs of our students, parents, teachers, and schools,” Brinks said. “This School Aid budget continues our legacy of equitable, responsible, and smart budgeting.”

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) told reporters the budget was a continuation of the work the Democratic majorities began last year, calling it a people-centered budget.

Anthony dismissed the attacks by Republicans that the budget was fiscally irresponsible.

“I remember having those same speeches when I was in the minority a couple of years ago,” Anthony said.

She said she also did not see the education budget as a raid on the teacher’s retirement fund.

The senator said she has always been willing to negotiate in good faith with members who bring constructive ideas to the table.