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What to expect when you're expecting a Michigan government shutdown

liquor shelf

Preparing for a shutdown

The Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget began preparing in August for a government shutdown if a budget deal is not reached by Oct. 1. Here’s what happens through the end of the month: 

Sept. 16: Government employees notified of potential temporary layoffs ahead. 

Sept. 25: All vendors and contractors doing business with the state will be told they won’t be paid after the end of the month if a deal isn’t reached.

Sept. 27: Public will be notified of exactly what government functions will be shut down. Employees receive notice on whether they’re deemed “essential” or “non-essential.” Non-essential employees will stay home after Oct. 1 and won’t be paid. 

Sept. 30: The government shuts down at the end of the day if leaders haven’t passed a budget.

Buy your hunting license and visit your favorite state park soon — there’s no guarantee you’ll have that option come Oct. 1. 
That’s the first day of the new fiscal year. If the Michigan state budget isn’t agreed to by the end of September, nearly two-thirds of the state’s 49,000 employees will be temporarily laid off and government functions that are not considered “essential” will grind to a halt. 
Completing the nearly $60 billion budget has proved vexing: Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican leaders Lee Chatfield in the House and Mike Shirkey in the Senate disagree on a handful of crucial topics, including whether the new budget should include some form of one-time funding for roads
All three leaders promise they’re working as hard as they can to avoid what would be the first government shutdown in the state in a decade. Michigan’s last government shutdown in 2009 lasted only two hours; the one before that, in 2007, lasted four.
And there’s reason to believe it won’t come to that: Despite budget negotiations breaking down last week, leaders said Tuesday that budget bills will be sent to Whitmer next Tuesday. Whitmer asked for them to be ready before the weekend in order to “review them and get them signed by September 30.” GOP leaders say they still haven’t met with her since last week; whether she signs off on the GOP-proposed budget remains to be seen.  

But should Whitmer, Shirkey and Chatfield fail to reach an agreement — and should a shutdown last into the waking hours of Oct. 1, a Tuesday — here’s how ordinary Michigan residents can expect access to state government services to change, according to the state Department of Technology, Management and Budget. 

Health and safety services: Open

All of the “critical functions” of the government would continue, primarily programs that are considered essential to Michiganders’ health and safety. These programs would remain open, though some with reduced capacity as noted: 

  • Prisons, parole and probation services 
  • State police would continue to patrol — though special operations and investigations would continue “at a reduced capacity”
  • Cash, food, child care, disability and family foster care payments
  • Child protective services, child welfare programs, child support collections, adoption subsidies 
  • Unemployment services
  • Medicaid health services, though health care providers treating Medicaid patients wouldn't be paid for their work until a budget is complete 
  • The state’s five psychiatric hospitals, forensic centers (which provide psychiatric evaluation and care for criminal defendants), juvenile justice facilities and veterans’ homes
  • Emergency response and other “health/safety functions” — but at a reduced capacity. Public health emergency response and law enforcement support are among the programs that would be kept. 
  • Mackinac, International and Blue Water bridges would remain open 

Kurt Weiss, spokesman for the Department of Technology, Management and Budget, told Bridge about 30,000 of the state’s 49,000 employees would be temporarily laid off if their work isn’t deemed “essential” to these functions. State workers received notice Monday that the state is preparing for a government shutdown if the budget isn’t completed by the end of the month. 

Weiss said it’s unclear whether the government employees asked to stay home from work would be paid later for lost time, as happened when the federal government shut down late last year

“We’ve never had a shutdown last that long,” Weiss said. 

Highway lane restrictions. Stressed bladders. 

In the event of a government shutdown, any state-funded road construction projects would stop, tabling ongoing fixes until funding is reinstated. 

Jeff Cranson, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation, said there are about 150 projects on state highways that would be stalled if a budget agreement isn’t reached in time. The work zones would be secured for travelers to pass through, which in some cases would mean lane restrictions staying in place. 

Michigan Department of Transportation’s 77 rest areas and welcome centers would close, meaning motorists need to rely on private gas stations for road trip bathroom breaks. 

Closed state recreational sites

Postpone that tour of Fort Mackinac and forget about that weekend outing at Belle Isle — all state parks, forest campgrounds, state harbors and historical sites would shutter. 

Not sure whether your favorite park is run by the state? See a full map of Michigan state parks and recreational areas here and historic sites here

Less booze, lotto 

The state’s Liquor Control Commission would stop accepting retail orders for spirits once the government shuts down. According to the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), that means Michigan liquor stores would be stuck with the booze they have — once they sell out, the shelves would stay unstocked until the government reopens. 

You also won’t be able to buy state lottery games. By extension, the state School Aid Fund would miss out on revenue the lottery generates

Payments stop to K-12 schools, universities, cities  

Operations and student financial aid payments to universities and community colleges would halt, and monthly school aid payments to K-12 schools would stop until a budget agreement is reached. Schools receive about 9 percent of their annual state funding every month beginning in October.

Revenue sharing and other local government payments would also stop. For the current fiscal year, that was worth around $1.3 billion. According to the Michigan Municipal League, communities use this money for services such as police protection and sewer service. 

Secretary of State branch offices shut

Michigan Secretary of State offices, which perform most of the same functions as the Department of Motor Vehicles in other states, would all be closed in the event of a shutdown.

Most basic services can be done online, which Department of State spokesman Shawn Starkey said is expected to continue in the case of a shutdown. You can also still visit SOS kiosks in some stores and shopping centers that can perform vehicle tab renewals, though kiosks located at branch offices will be inaccessible. 

Halt to hunting and fishing licenses  

In the case of a shutdown, “most state licensing, inspection, remediation and permitting programs will cease operations,” the DTMB draft shutdown rules read. 

It’s hard to say exactly which programs would be spared from this; that will be solidified by Sept. 27, when the full list of what would be closed is released and state employees are notified whether they are considered “essential” or “non-essential.”

Weiss, the DTMB spokesman, said programs like lead remediation and environmental cleanups done by the state would stop. State licensing for everything from asbestos removal, nurses or doctors, tattoo parlors and commercial reptile catchers would also stop. 

You also wouldn’t be able to buy hunting and fishing licenses, just as deer and other hunting seasons are getting underway across Michigan. 

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