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The Week in State Politics with Jack Lessenberry

Michigan Radio's Jack Lessenberry
Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry

It's Wednesday, the day we speak with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry about what's going on in state politics. On tap for today: Michigan gets hit hard by bad news from the census and Governor-elect Rick Snyder says he wants a 2-year budget plan for the state.Beginning with national news, the data collected by the 2010 United States Census was released this week and Michigan is the only state whose population shrank between 2000 and 2010. As a result, Michigan will lose one seat in the U.S. Congress. As Lessenberry points out, it will be up to the Michigan Legislature to decide which seat will be drawn out of existence.

“Next year the Legislature will draw new boundaries,” says Lessenberry, “They have to squeeze fifteen districts down to fourteen, and it’s sort of a game of musical chairs, and one congressman is going to be the odd man out. What they’re likely to do, since Republicans control the entire process, is put two Democrats together in the same district, forcing one of them to retire or two of them to run against each other in a primary.”

As to how this will affect the people of Michigan, Mr. Lessenberry says the state will lose even more clout in Congress. “Since 1980, we’ve lost a total of five seats,” says Lessenberry, “That’s like losing the voting power of the entire state of Connecticut.”

In addition, Lessenberry says the loss of a congressional seat may cause one or more of Michigan’s most recognizable political figures to be defeated or retire. “Sandy Levin, who may be in a district with Gary Peters is 81,” says Lessenberry, “John Dingell, the dean of Congress, will be 86 before the next election, and some of these folks may just decide it’s a good time to go. But, at any rate, the political landscape will be changing.”

In Lansing, Governor-elect Rick Snyder has said that he wants to implement a two-year budget in place of the state’s current one-year system. Lessenberry thinks Snyder’s idea is good in theory, but says, without altering Michigan’s Constitution, budgeting will still have to take place annually.

“Legally, we still have to be on a one-year budget,” says Lessenberry, “He can have, theoretically, a two-year planning budget, but, unless they change the Constitution, they’ve got to balance the budget every year. They can sort of think in terms of a two-year cycle, and other governors have talked about that before, but it nearly always sort of falls apart due to the volatile nature of the economy and politics.”

Beyond the Constitutional impediments to creating a multi-year budgeting process, Mr. Lessenberry says there are other variables that make it difficult. “You have to know what your revenue is going to be and what your expenses are going to be,” he says, “For the last few years, as the recession has deepened, they keep having to scramble and cut the estimates of how much money is coming in. They’re hoping they’re bottoming out now, but it would have been impossible in January 2008 to have foreseen how bleak the economy would be in January 2010.”

But there are benefits to having a two-year budget, and Lessenberry is optimistic about Snyder’s willingness to plan for Michigan’s future rather than react to Michigan’s present. “If you have a luxury of a two-year planning cycle, you can make decisions that take longer to ripen and that sometimes make more sense,” says Lessenberry, adding, “I think it’s sort of a good sign that he’s sort of thinking in the long term. Snyder’s taking the longer view and saying we really need to plan for the future here, and I think that’s good.”

- By Eliot Johnson

You can hear the interview here.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.