LANSING, Mich. — With a midnight deadline bearing down, Michigan lawmakers struggled to craft a spending plan Wednesday, leaving many of those with a stake in how the budget turns out as uncertain as they were the day before.

The House and Senate are trying to erase a projected $2.8 billion deficit. They passed a series of bills Wednesday making deep cuts in various programs, but stalled when it came to bills addressing K-12 education and the payments many local governments use to pay police officers and firefighters.

Emotions began running especially high as the House began debating cuts to public education.

House Appropriations Chairman George Cushingberry, D-Detroit, criticized Republicans and “namby-pamby” Democrats he said were afraid to take a stand against cutting every school district by $218 per pupil — a loss of millions of dollars for some districts.

“You can’t have it both ways,” Cushingberry said. “You have to choose if you’re going to serve truth and light, or if you’re going to serve the dark.”

Earlier in the day, children attended a morning rally with advocates urging that money for early childhood programs be saved.

Sharon Parks of the Michigan League for Human Services said the cuts to children’s programs and other crucial services were hard to understand when state could avoid them by raising some taxes or ending some business tax exemptions.

“Until we fix our structural problem, we aren’t in a position to reinvest and strengthen any of our programs, including early childhood education,” she said. “When this budget is completed there will be no winners.”

Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm kept a low profile, working on the budget but avoiding the House or the Senate floor, as she did last week. Spokeswoman Liz Boyd said the governor was just down the hall from the two chambers in her Capitol ceremonial office and could appear later in the evening.

“The myth … that this governor has not been engaged is absolutely ridiculous,” Boyd said. “She has been here.”

Lt. Gov. John Cherry held court in the hallway outside the House chamber early Wednesday evening, talking to reporters and lobbyists and urging that an interim budget be sent to the governor by midnight.

The Democratic-led House passed an interim general fund budget on Wednesday that the GOP-controlled Senate passed last week. But by early evening the Senate had yet to vote to let the bill take effect immediately, rather than next spring, so the measure could go to Granholm for her signature.

Democratic House Speaker Andy Dillon and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop put their heads together for several meetings on the Senate floor during the afternoon. But action stalled in both chambers after House members failed to pass a bill cutting K-12 education funding.

As they awaited word on which direction legislative leaders would take, lawmakers milled around or sat at their desks making phone calls or reading on their computers. Sen. Randy Richardville, an avid Tigers fan, talked with onlookers about the team’s playoff hopes.

Everyone looked prepared to head into a long night.

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