With the budget for the next fiscal year now passed and signed by the governor, I am glad to write to you once more as your representative in Lansing. In order to represent you and your priorities, I rely on feedback from constituents. You can get in touch with me by phone at (517) 373-2577, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on my website, rabhi.housedems.com. I will keep you updated on developments in Lansing with this monthly e-newsletter. If you would like to unsubscribe, please email me at email@example.com.
I look forward to working together to move Michigan forward.
I hold two “Yousef and You” forums each month to provide anyone in our district an opportunity to get an update on legislative issues, ask questions and participate in open discussion. I hope many of you will be able to join me there.
The next Yousef and You forums will be:
Monday, October 14
Banfield’s Bar and Grill, 3140 Packard St. in Ann ArborSaturday,
Community Room, RoosRoast Coffee, 1155 Rosewood St. in Ann Arbor
Before the October 1 deadline, the House and Senate passed budgets for the fiscal year and sent them to the governor for review. The governor signed the budgets in time to avert a government shutdown but she used her line-item veto and executive discretion to make a number of changes. In all, she vetoed 147 line-items ($947 million out of a $59.9 billion state budget) and used a State Administrative Board to move about half a billion dollars around inside executive departments.
Throughout the budget process, I have consistently called for new road funding to fix our broken infrastructure. I will continue to support this goal as we move forward. However, the Republican-majority Legislature unfortunately presented a budget that would only apply an inadequate $400 million from the General Fund to transportation needs.
The governor vetoed most of this one-time transportation funding and used administrative procedures to shift some funds to supplement transit. $400 million to fix our crumbling roads and infrastructure, when experts agree that we need $2.5 billion, would continue the tradition of putting Band-Aids on potholes. I voted NO on the Department of Transportation budget because, like the governor, I know we need serious long-term solutions for our roads that don’t take away needed funding from our local governments and other funding priorities.
Earlier this summer, the Michigan House Democrats introduced legislation that would fund our roads and fix our broken infrastructure by increasing the corporate income tax to 8.5 percent and implementing a parity tax on flow-through entities. In addition, the bills would make sure the heaviest trucks pay their fair share for the damage they cause to our roads by placing a per-mile fee on them and establishing a bridge tolling program.
I will continue to support these bills while working with my colleagues in the Legislature as negotiations continue. Our state can’t continue to operate on the meager revenue we currently collect; we must make sure that the businesses and trucking companies that profit off our roads and public infrastructure pay their fair share. Michiganders deserve both a comprehensive road funding plan and a balanced budget.
School Aid Fund
While I would have preferred that we adopt the governor’s executive recommendation to ensure that schools have adequate funding to educate every Michigan student, this was not possible without cooperation from the legislative majority to raise more revenue. Through bi-partisan negotiations, we did pass a budget that will increase foundation allowances and finally raise maximum districts above their 2009 peak. We succeeded in giving districts more flexibility to use at-risk funding, ensuring that struggling schools can get help without having to close or reconstitute themselves, closing loopholes that allowed some districts to game their enrollment numbers, and doubling a proposed increase in special education funding from $30 million to $60 million.
While she signed the School Aid budget, the governor also vetoed many education line items. In public statements, she indicated she believes they are boondoggles that divert funds from classrooms to private vendors. Although some important programs were cut in the process, I support the governor in standing up against the many corporate contractors who line their pockets at the expense of Michigan schoolchildren. I am also glad that the governor eliminated increased public funding for private schools, which has been included in the last several years’ budgets in violation of the Michigan Constitution.
The general government budget provides funding for key state agencies such as the offices of the attorney general and secretary of state. Although this budget did include increased funding for important programs, including the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Fund, its attacks on both the attorney general and the secretary of state were very troubling.
The Citizens Redistricting Commission passed by a large margin in a statewide vote of the people. Despite overwhelming public support, Republicans in the Legislature continue their attempts to undermine the commission. The budget underfunded the commission by one million dollars, contrary to Governor Whitmer’s recommendation. It is extremely important that we continue to fight and advocate for a fully independent and properly funded redistricting commission so that it can do the job Michigan voters demanded.
Although this budget did not end up including the major cuts to Attorney General Nessel’s office that were proposed earlier this year, it still attempted to micromanage her work by requiring that she herself appear in the Appropriations Committee before entering into any lawsuit against the federal government. It also rolled out the attorney general’s budget into more than 50 line-items, further restricting how she can distribute resources within her department. The attorney general’s role is defined by the Michigan Constitution, and I believe some of the Legislature’s attempts to hobble her are a violation of the separation of powers.
I voted against the general government budget in part because of these concerns, as well as my objections to underfunding other important programs. Fortunately, after the Legislature sent this budget to her desk, the governor exercised her line-item veto and administrative board authority to mitigate many of the restrictions on the attorney general’s independent executive authority.
Department of Insurance and Financial Services
The Department of Insurance and Financial Services (DIFS) is responsible for providing consumer protection for Michiganders and regulating the insurance and financial services industry in Michigan. The Departmental budget is particularly important this year as we move forward with the implementation of the no-fault auto insurance reforms that the Legislature pushed through in June.
I was a staunch opponent of this legislation (Public Act 21) and was proud to take a stand and protect families and communities across Michigan by voting against the changes to our no-fault system. However, if we are going to be moving forward with these reforms, it is essential that we continue to protect consumers by ensuring that there are adequate staff and funding allocated to oversee those changes within the necessary state departments, something this budget fails to do.
This budget does not allocate funding for the twelve new Full-Time Employees (FTEs) that are required to ensure providers are meeting the rate reduction and reporting requirements mandated by PA 21. Without these staff and budget increases, the Legislature is leaving DIFS toothless to enforce the very legislation it passed earlier this year. Furthermore, this budget would not allocate additional funding for the four new FTEs that are required for DIFS to meet additional new statutory duties.
Over the last few weeks, I have been hard at work on crucial legislation that will work towards criminal justice reform, protecting our environment, and ensuring that clean drinking water is accessible for every Michigander.
Protecting Ourselves and our Water from Polystyrene:
I introduced House Bill 5006 to ban most uses of polystyrene foam in Michigan. Polystyrene (aka Styrofoam) is commonly used for food containers, packing materials, coolers, and floats. It does not easily break down once disposed of and can fester in our lakes and rivers for centuries, causing irreparable environmental damage. HB 5006 and its companion, HB 5007, would ban the distribution of this harmful material in Michigan and ensure that our environment is protected for all Michiganders for generations to come.
Bills to Preserve Michigan Water:
I will soon reintroduce my three-bill water protection package from last session. The first of these bills would ensure that all waters of the state, including groundwater, are held in the public trust to guarantee that our common resources are available for everyone and protected from pollution. The second would close a loophole in our current law that allows large corporations like Nestlé to divert water from the Great Lakes basin if it is packaged in small containers, therefore preventing big companies from pumping our groundwater and exporting it around the country. The final bill in the package would impose an excise tax of 4 percent on the wholesale price of bottled water from non-municipal sources. The revenue from this tax would be directed to the Drinking Water Revolving Fund, which helps pay for improvements in drinking water infrastructure. Together, these bills would help protect and preserve Michigan’s unique freshwater resources.
Furthering my efforts to reform our broken criminal justice system, I have joined a bipartisan bill package that would make Michigan a national leader in expungement reform. My bill in this package, House Bill 4983, would expand misdemeanor expungement by shortening the wait time from five years to three years.
The other bills in the package would allow for automatic expungement for up to two felonies and four misdemeanors if none of the crimes were assaultive, expand eligibility for petition expungement, allow for expungement of certain marijuana-related offenses, allow forgiveness for acts committed during “one bad night” and allow for expungement of certain traffic-related offenses. The bills have been referred to the House Judiciary Committee where they are expected to advance.
This bipartisan bill package represents another tremendous stride the 100th Legislature is taking to reform our criminal justice system and will ensure that more Michigan residents can lead productive lives by removing barriers to employment and housing.
Private Prison Ban:
I introduced House Bill 4962 to ban all state agencies from contracting with private detention facilities. Private prisons are a key driver in mass incarceration by creating a financial incentive to keep people behind bars. Research also demonstrates that they do not save money for state or local governments. I believe that our corrections system should be focused on equipping people for re-entry into society, not on lining the pockets of big corporations.
HB 4962 and its Senate counterpart, SB 489, have been referred to the Government Operations Committees in their respective chambers.