GRAND RAPIDS — How Lansing lawmakers define “temporary” and what they do with a certain unfunded mandate this fall will be of keen interest to Kent County Commissioners.
Commissioner Michael Sak recently raised the issue of unfunded mandates with the county’s governmental affairs consultant, David Haynes, a partner at the Lansing-based Public Affairs Associates Inc.
“The Legislature is really struggling with this issue because obviously once you deal with the unfunded mandates it impacts the state budget,” said Haynes of the fiscal plan that has less revenue than expected. “So there isn’t a lot of movement right now on unfunded mandates.”
Sak was particularly interested in whether legislators had provided the county with enough money to cover its costs for background checks resulting from Public Act 381, the new concealed weapons bill that became law last month.
Lawmakers made a $1 million appropriation with the bill, but the county estimated it will spend at least $240,000 a year alone, due to the increased number of applications for permits coming from the new law. Sak felt it was going to cost the county more money than what it has been allocated so far.
Help could come from Commissioner Jack Horton. Horton serves on a state committee that reviews funding complaints from municipalities. He remarked that the committee hasn’t received any gripes yet, but felt that the CCW law may be the impetus that provides some.
“We’re really waiting for that opportunity, and this may be the perfect opportunity for us to do that,” said Horton.
What “temporary” means to state lawmakers will decide how the courts are reformed and funded. A proposal to amend the constitution has been made and it would reorganize the system. A two-thirds vote isn’t needed to pass it because the courts have been created via an order issued by the Supreme Court. The order provides for the temporary assignment of judges.
“There is a view in Lansing, in the state Legislature, that the temporary assignment of judges is prohibited by the constitution if it’s more than temporary. So the debate is, what is temporary?” said Haynes.
“If they were to change the constitution, or if they were to have a constitutional crisis about what temporary is, we could have some real conflicts going,” he added. “We’re going to watch that very closely as it relates to the funding mechanisms in that bill.”
Other issues facing lawmakers this fall will be finishing the state budget and considering some tax legislation. Haynes felt that legislators will continue to pass bills that deal with equity issues, such as revenue sharing. The census marked Detroit’s population as dropping below a million, meaning that the state’s largest city could lose a special exemption given to cities with a million or more residents.
“There are also some tax bills being talked about that need to be adjusted due to some lawsuits that are pending,” said Haynes, who added he was working closely with the county to determine its needs and passing those on to area legislators.
Lawmakers did finish redrawing political boundaries before going on summer break. These redistricting changes may have profound effects locally. Haynes said Kent County could have three state senators and two congressmen representing it for the first time in 40 and 50 years, respectively.
“There is some talk about lawsuits being filed about the districts statewide, so the Supreme Court could overrule these districts,” said Haynes. “Until the Supreme Court acts, some believe the districts aren’t final. But most people believe that the districts will look as they look now.”