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What Stopped IE Change in the Senate?

March 14, 2023

Article courtesy MIRS News for SBAM’s Lansing Watchdog e-newsletter

In the heat of the governor’s tax proposal debate came a historical Senate resolution that would have changed decades of precedent by allowing legislation to become effective immediately without a clear two-thirds vote displayed on the chamber’s electronic board.

Like in the House, the subject of whether a bill had the two-thirds vote super majority needed to give it immediate effect could become a highly speculative voice vote.

Yet, at a time when the implementation date of SR 12 was critical, the measure was quickly shipped to the Senate Government Operations Committee and has yet to reappear.

Instead, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was expected to sign HB 4001 without the Senate signing off on immediate effect, meaning:

– The governor’s plan to give every taxpayer a $180 rebate check is dead.

– It’s likely the state will end the 2022 fiscal year with enough money in the General Fund to trip a 2015 trigger that will roll the income tax rate from 4.25% to 4.05%.

The governor’s expansion of exemptible retirement income is still in the bill, as is expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit.

But why did the bill include the $180-per-taxpayer rebate check if majority Democrats knew Republicans would catch on to the fact these checks were a gimmick to suck $800 million out of the General Fund and prevent the income tax reduction trigger from being activated?

They had to know the Republicans would not grant a bill the six immediate effect votes needed if they knew such a move would prevent the income tax rollback from taking place.

Was the plan, all along, to force a rule change on immediate effect, but things changed when Democrats realized that at least one member, Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) wasn’t supportive of such a move?

The answer, according to sources behind the scenes, was no.

While it’s true Irwin is not supportive of changing the chamber’s immediate effect rules, there was no discussion within the Senate Democratic caucus to squeeze Irwin into changing his mind for the 20 votes needed to change the immediate effect counting rules, sources tell MIRS.

Apparently, the strategy of going after the $180 rebate was a long-shot effort to make it as hard as possible for Senate Republicans to vote against immediate effect on HB 4001 . If the Republicans were going to say “no” on immediate effect, the fact Michigan voters didn’t receive their check would be the Republicans’ fault.

Originally, the plan was to shift $800 million from the General Fund to the Strategic Outreach and Attraction Fund (SOAR) as part of HB 4001 . If adopted, the General Fund wouldn’t have enough money in it to activate the income tax rollback per the 2015 law.

However, Republicans quickly got wise to the plan and were a quick “hell no.” The governor and legislative Democrats were not keen about rolling back the income tax rate out of concern about what future budgets could look like.

So, instead of $800 million to the SOAR Fund, which a growing number of Republicans are objecting to, $800 million would go to a separate fund for a $180-a-piece rebate check.

Whitmer, herself, verified the swap during a press conference when she conceded the dollar figure for the check — $180 — was created because of “math” — basically, a one-for-one switch into a different fund to prevent the income tax rollback.

One source described the strategy as a long-shot gimmick that, if not successful, would at least force Republicans to be on the record opposing direct checks to their constituents.

Given a $180 one-time rebate check or a permanent, 2-percentage point decrease in the income tax rate wasn’t even a close call for most Republicans. For them, preserving the income tax rate cut was a third rail.

Besides, another risk with pushing for an immediate effect rule change is the Republicans pursuing a lawsuit similar to what Irwin and the Democrats did in the House in 2012. While Irwin & Co. weren’t successful, the matter stopped at the Court of Appeals level.

Democrats don’t want a new suit to be pushed to the Supreme Court level on the chance a majority of the Supremes rule the legislature is violating the Constitution by not recognizing a constitutional requirement that a roll call vote be taken if one-fifth of the members request it.

If the Supreme Court were to rule that or that the recording of an immediate effect by voice vote is unconstitutional, the gig would be up in both the Senate AND the House, giving new power to the House Republicans to negotiate.

So, if the Democrats knew they didn’t have the votes to give the bill immediate effect in the Senate and there was a high risk of doing so, why bother with SR 12?

Apparently, the Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) resolution was a signal for another reason — Sen. Joseph Bellino Jr. (R-Monroe) swiping the gavel, calling the Senate back into order and accepting an adjournment resolution motion while the Democrats were still in the caucus room on the day HB 4001 was scheduled to be taken up.

The goal, allegedly, is to hang this resolution over the heads of the Republicans in case they refuse to negotiate on other issues down the road.

How effective is this threat, though, if the Rs know the Democrats don’t have the 20 votes needed to change the rules if Irwin continues to refuse to change course?

“The rule set forth in the 1963 constitution has not changed,” Irwin said, while adding, “My comments are a matter of public record.”

Irwin was very vocal about how the House handled immediate effect 10 years ago.

Would he be open to changing his mind?

“I’m happy to have a conversation (but) our caucus has been up to its armpits in more relevant legislation (and) there has not been a conversation in caucus on this,” Irwin said.

He told MIRS he does not know if other Democrats share his opinion, but he does reveal that nobody “leaned” on him last week to put up a green light on the resolution, which remains in Brinks’ own Government Operations Committee.

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