Stamas: Targets Reached on Most Budgets
As reported by Gongwer, Senate Appropriations Committee  Chair Sen. Jim Stamas said Friday that targets have been reached on nearly all agency and department budgets, while discussions on what type of potential tax deal can be ironed out are still ongoing.

"We got targets out middle of this week for the majority of the budgets," Mr. Stamas (R-Midland) said.

The senator said there are a pair of budgets still awaiting targets but declined to name them, adding there is still a little way to go in reaching targets on those budgets.

"We’re making good progress on these other budgets," Mr. Stamas said of the rest of the budgets.

The setting of budget targets sets the table for final negotiations. Late last month conference committees for House and Senate budget bills were named. Also last month the Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference upped its projections for state monies by $5 billion between the current and next fiscal years. For the current 2021-22 fiscal year, the upward revision totaled $2.99 billion and for 2022-23 the upward revision was $2.03 billion.

This year’s budget comes against an ongoing partisan debate over providing some form of tax cuts to residents. Republicans have pushed for a wide-ranging tax cut, recently having for a second time in recent months passed a $2.5 billion plan, which was vetoed Friday by Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Democrats have urged more targeted cuts such as to pensions and the Earned Income Tax Credit, with Governor Gretchen Whitmer having recently called for a $500 rebate to an undefined group of taxpayers.

"Whether there is going to be any kind of tax agreement … is part of the discussion," Mr. Stamas said. "That is a substantial hurdle."

There appears to be some degree of consensus on making changes to the EITC which could be part of a broader agreement.

A separate debate over suspending the state fuel tax and/or suspending the sales tax on motor fuel has been ongoing in the last few months as well. Where this might fit in to any final tax negotiations, like the broader budget agreement, remains to be seen.

"There’s been some positive discussions," Mr. Stamas said of talks between Ms. Whitmer, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell) on a tax agreement.

He said he has not yet been made aware of details of tax deal progress.

"I’m hopeful they make a decision sooner rather than later," Mr. Stamas said of a tax deal.

Once the tax negotiations are complete, the final budget targets and home stretch of budget work can be undertaken. Mr. Stamas said he expects to wait until all budgets are ready for votes to begin bringing them forward.

A supplemental appropriations bill is also expected to be crafted including items for the current fiscal year and the upcoming fiscal year. Mr. Stamas had no details Friday as to what the supplemental will include.

The state has a surplus of about $6 billion, but much of it is one-time money due to the pandemic and the spending down of federal relief dollars. This has prompted budget officials to urge caution in how it crafts the budget given that these excess funds are expected to dry up as the economy levels off during the pandemic recovery.

Whitmer Vetoes Yet Another Tax Cut Plan
Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Friday vetoed a more than $2 billion tax cut passed by the Legislature last month, citing constitutional issues in the way the bill was amended as the reason she could not sign the bill.

Ms. Whitmer was not expected to sign HB 4568 , which was passed without negotiations with the administration and would reduce revenue by about $2.5 billion annually.

In her veto letter, however, she said the bill was amended outside of its original purpose, violating the Constitution, adding, "It is invalid and unenforceable."

The bill originally would have extended tax filing deadlines. It was changed on the Senate floor to lower the income tax rate, create a child tax credit, expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, increase tax exemptions for retired individuals and expand the disabled veteran property tax exemption.

Ms. Whitmer wrote the "constitutional defects of this hurried process are both glaring and obvious."

"The bill was passed in open disregard of the constitutional rules that are meant to protect Michiganders’ rights to evaluate proposed laws and make their voices heard before those laws are adopted," she wrote. "As I said in 2012 when I was a senator and the Republican-controlled Legislature pulled a similar stunt, ‘our Constitution requires us to follow certain rules and processes and subject your actions to the voters and not just ram things through by entirely replacing bills with new content.’ That position was later vindicated in court. … Because this bill would be subject to a similarly strong legal challenge, signing it would sow uncertainty about the legality of much of the tax code."

Rep. Matt Hall (R-Comstock Township), the sponsor of the bill, said in a statement House Republicans will keep fighting for tax cuts.

"We keep trying to provide relief from record inflation and high prices at the pump, but the governor keeps turning it down and denying the people we represent the help they need," he said. "We actually took her suggestions from her previous veto and included things she said she wanted in this plan, but apparently it wasn’t enough to change her mind and convince her that Michigan families shouldn’t keep falling further and further behind with each monthly bill. I don’t know if she will ever change her mind and allow hard-working taxpayers to keep more of their own money, but I do know House Republicans will continue to fight for tax relief and continue to give her the chance to finally do the right thing. This isn’t over."

The Legislature passed the plan the same day Ms. Whitmer announced a proposal to give an undefined set of taxpayers $500 rebate checks.

Since then, Ms. Whitmer has argued rebate checks would give people relief now and has continued to embrace pausing the sales tax charged on fuel purchases. Ms. Whitmer said she would support that earlier this year as lawmakers pushed for a pause of the state fuel tax.

Some discussion on the gas tax front appears to be happening as the House has not passed a plan from the Senate pausing both sales tax on fuel and the fuel tax.

In her veto letter, Ms. Whitmer said she and lawmakers have "a remarkable record of collaboration," and calls for discussions on tax cut plans, focusing on what she has proposed.

"I look forward to meeting with you in the coming days to discuss next steps on a comprehensive approach to support Michigan’s working families. With billions in additional revenue and a growing economy, we have a historic opportunity to negotiate a balanced, bipartisan budget that offers real inflation relief right now," she wrote. "Let’s work together to invest in our shared priorities like getting our kids back on track, funding local police, and fixing our crumbling roads and bridges."

The Michigan Republican Party blasted Ms. Whitmer for vetoing the plan.

"After saying she was ready to sign a bill that would bring economic relief to Michiganders just yesterday, Gretchen Whitmer once again today vetoed the Michigan GOP Legislature’s plan to bring tax cuts to families, including a $500 credit for parents," Gustavo Portela, MIGOP deputy chief of staff and communications director, said in a statement. "Whitmer’s words ring hollow as she actively works to prevent economic aid from reaching families as a recession approaches and inflation hits new highs. She is clearly unserious about lessening the burden of her and Joe Biden’s economic failures and unwilling to work in a bipartisan manner to get this done. We have no doubt Michigan voters will choose a new governor come November after the disaster that has been Whitmer’s term."

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) said in a statement residents deserve to know what’s in legislation that will affect their everyday lives.

"Our founding fathers put clear rules into our constitution to protect that right. It is against our Constitution to introduce legislation, only to gut it and pass something utterly different from its initial purpose," he said. "This isn’t some kind of technicality, it’s a foundational principle and Gov. Whitmer’s veto is proof of her commitment to transparency and integrity in our legislative process."

Craig Announces Write-In Intentions; Johnson Continues to Hope for Legal Remedy
Disqualified Republican gubernatorial candidate James Craig announced Thursday that he would be launching a write-in campaign for the August 2 primary, a move that one of his fellow former candidates – who also was booted from the ballot – said would cost millions of dollars to even have a chance.

Mr. Craig made the announcement on the Thursday evening telecast of a "Let It Rip" segment on WJBK-TV, adding that he would not be deterred by his disqualification by the Board of State Canvassers , due to allegedly fraudulent signatures on his ballot petition sheets. Mr. Craig also lost his legal challenges to get back on the ballot before the Court of Claims and later the Michigan Supreme Court.

He appeared on the segment with Perry Johnson, who was also disqualified for the same reasons as Mr. Craig, and similarly lost his legal challenge for ballot access before the state’s high court and is now suing the state in federal court to try and get his name placed on August 2 ballots.

"I’m not giving up. They have robbed me. They have robbed Perry. And guess what? Write-in," Mr. Craig said. "There’s so many people that have reached out through my campaign and said, ‘Chief, you’re a fighter. Don’t give up continue to fight. We need you to do what you’re doing.’ And guess what? I’m going to."

While Mr. Craig spent some considerable time attacking Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and the nonpartisan Department of State for allegedly hoodwinking him and other candidates, he also said fellow Republicans wanted him gone, including the campaign of Tudor Dixon.

A super PAC supporting Ms. Dixon challenged the validity of Mr. Craig’s signatures. Ms. Dixon turned in almost 30,000 signatures and was cleared to appear on the ballot after facing her petition challenge from Democratic Party operatives. Mr. Craig said she was deeply down in the polls but shot to potential frontrunner status following his ouster.

Host Roop Raj then turned the platform to Mr. Johnson, asking him if he believed the next governor of the state of Michigan could be someone who’s a write-in candidate.

"I think it’s very difficult, practically speaking. People have a hard time remembering the name. You take a look, although it happened in the city (of Detroit in one of Mayor Mike Duggan’s election bids), it’s a much smaller universe," Mr. Johnson said. "We have roughly 9.5 million to 10 million people in the state. So that’s a lot of people to cover, and it makes it very, very difficult. I think you have to get on the ballot. That’s why I filed in the federal court."

Mr. Johnson spent most of his time sharing his legal arguments on why believed he was wronged by the Bureau of Elections, the Board of State Canvassers , Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and the courts themselves, all of which was countered and challenged by Mr. Raj and the show’s typical host, reporter Charlie Langton, who appeared via Zoom due to his recent COVID-19 diagnosis.

But Mr. Craig circled back after those comments, saying he believed he had enough name recognition to make a write-in campaign work, due in part to his previous standing as a frontrunner in the race and his numerous conservative media appearances that are viewed not just in Michigan, but by all walks of Republicans across the nation.

He also rested his chances to win the primary on that write-in effort and said he would not be suing further to get his name on the ballot.

Asked again about his thoughts on Mr. Craig’s chances, the self-proclaimed quality guru said the statistics on that wager don’t really check out.

"I look at the facts. Winning as a write-in, I know chief is optimistic, (but) when you take and analyze what needs to be done, it would cost, I estimated approximately $22 million in order to accomplish this," Mr. Johnson said. "And that’s to put us in a position (of having a chance) where we are at, we are at a severe disadvantage going into (and up against) all the people that are on the ballot."

Mr. Johnson again pointed to his legal efforts, trying to make his case about why he was wronged yet again argued that neither he nor Mr. Craig should not have been excluded based on the signatures they turned in.

Mr. Craig added that he Mr. Johnson "need to be partners" because they were candidates, in his word, "out of the swamp."

The conversation then turned to Mr. Johnson, who was asked if he were to lose his court battles, would he be open to serving as Mr. Craig’s lieutenant governor should he win the primary, to which the former candidate said no.

"I’m not interested in being lieutenant governor, I ran for governor," said Mr. Johnson, to which Mr. Craig turned, shook his hand and said "my, man."

"I love that. He and I are the same kind of guy," Mr. Craig said.


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