Another Michigan budget standoff dawns

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

Budget talks between Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and legislative Republicans again broke down on Thursday night. 

While the statements from all parties offer a fair bit of political posturing, they also cast a clear light on the opposing viewpoints, with Whitmer calling for new funding sources for roads vs. GOP calls to move around existing General Fund dollars. 

GOP leaders say that Whitmer “walked away” from Fiscal Year 2020 budget negotiations on Thursday and they will now return to work on delivering a budget on their own, echoing statements they made last week. 

Republican leaders move ahead on budget without Whitmer

That comes just days after Whitmer agreed to focus on getting the budget done without a large, new influx of road funding, again raising the stakes for a partial government shutdown. The deadline for a new budget is Sept. 30.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey
Mike Shirkey | Michael Gerstein

State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) kicked off the round of statements around 6 p.m. 

“Our sincere efforts to reach consensus on budget targets came to an abrupt end when my governor ended negotiations this afternoon,” Shirkey said in a statement. “A negotiation must include parties that put forth genuine effort to compromise and reach consensus.  We could not have predicted that our talks would break down over my governor wanting less money to fix the roads, but in the end, we could not accommodate her position.”

Asked for clarification, Shirkey spokeswoman Amber McCann said in a text message that Whitmer wanted “significantly less” than the $500 million boost in general fund road money the Senate says it will include in its budget. 

Whitmer denies caving to GOP on road fix, says she’s being the ‘adult in the room’

McCann added that the “administration was not inclined to put [significant] additional general fund dollars into roads but rather seemed to be satisfied meeting statutory requirements.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer talks about her infrastructure plan in Grand Rapids, June 24, 2019 | Nick Manes

For her part, Whitmer has long held that she views new road funding as the linchpin of her budget proposal that would raise the gas tax by 45 cents. That would raise $2.5 billion in new revenue and $600 million of that would be placed back into the General Fund for boosts in other key priorities, namely education. 

Such a proposal ends the “shell game” as Whitmer calls it, wherein money from the roughly $10 billion General Fund is moved between priorities, short-changing each area. 

Whitmer alluded to that in her statement on Thursday, noting that the Legislature used much of the summer to take a traditional summer break. 

“After months of inaction, the best plan [the Legislature] could come up with would steal money from other priorities and doesn’t fix the roads,” Whitmer said. “This status quo budgeting will only keep our roads the worst in the nation and our schools at the back of the pack. It’s not a real solution, and it won’t solve the crises our state is facing in education and infrastructure.”

Whitmer and GOP leaders say they’re working on budget targets

Before Wednesday’s impasse, Whitmer, Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) agreed to set spending targets for the roughly $60 billion budget.

A slew of budget conference committees on various department budgets, such as the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Education, have been scheduled for Thursday afternoon. Whitmer told reporters before a 9/11 memorial event in Lansing Wednesday morning that she hoped Republicans would cancel them.

Rep. Shane Hernandez at the Fiscal Year 2020 budget presentation | Casey Hull

State House Appropriations Chair Shane Hernandez (R-Port Huron) said in a statement that the conference committees will convene.

“The Legislature is moving forward with plans to adopt a fiscally responsible state budget ahead of the Oct. 1 deadline,” he said. “… At this point, our plans are proceeding without consensus agreement from Gov. Whitmer because she continues to play games with road funding and Michigan taxpayers.

“She spent all summer demanding a $2.5 billion tax increase on Michigan drivers, but now she insists our new budget plan invest no additional money toward roads at all. Her position doesn’t make any sense.”

Chatfield tweeted a somewhat more upbeat statement: “The House has said from Day One that we need to ensure we have record funding for roads and schools, and we’re not backing down from that commitment. It’s what the people want. I look forward to working with anyone who shares those goals to get a budget done. Let’s work together!”

Nick Manes
Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.
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Susan J. Demas is an 18-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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