EAA, Detroit and Budget on Michigan Legislative Agenda This Week

Apr 21, 2014

The state Senate returns this week after three weeks away from Lansing. 

Credit Wikipedia

 Lawmakers have some high-profile issues to address between now and June. That's when the Legislature breaks for two months in the summer. 

It is not clear whether the Senate will vote any time soon on a bill related to the controversial Education Achievement Authority (EAA), the state-run authority meant to turn around persistently failing schools. Right now, it oversees 15 schools in Detroit.

Last month, the state House approved legislation that would pave the way for the EAA to expand up to 50 schools statewide. The authority has come under fire for financial struggles, mixed test scores, and declining enrollment. Supporters say the EAA has shown promise and students are improving.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate will want to wrap up work on a balanced budget in the next couple months. Alongside those budget talks, state lawmakers will discuss whether to contribute about $350 million to Detroit's bankruptcy settlement.

The agreement depends on that money to help protect retiree pensions and artwork at the Detroit Institute of Arts. State House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, says legislative approval could depend on whether public employee unions are also willing to contribute to the settlement.

Lawmakers are also discussing legislation that would boost state road funding by about $500 million a year. That is well short of the $1-2 billion most estimates say is needed to keep Michigan's roads from crumbling further.

Some critics say passing a smaller amount could hurt chances that the Legislature will pass a more comprehensive solution later. Bolger, who unveiled the plan earlier this month, says lawmakers cannot sit and wait until there is support for a larger amount.

That would likely require the Legislature to raise taxes or fees, whereas Bolger's proposal raises money through existing revenue streams. 

Many lawmakers will likely be in full campaign mode around the time they leave Lansing at the end of June. Every seat in the state Legislature plus the governor's office is up for election in November.

That means there will probably be less chance for controversial bills to move until the Legislature's "lame duck" session at the end of the year. 

Other high-profile bills still awaiting action include ones to overhaul the state's no-fault auto insurance law, revive medical marijuana dispensaries in Michigan, require schools to hold back 3rd graders who cannot read proficiently, and implement a statewide teacher evaluation system.