Michigan has a week to go to get next year’s state budget in place, and the Legislature is expected to approve a slew of conference reports during long Tuesday sessions.
Even without the Legislature in session on Monday, there was no shortage of drama, with state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) suggesting some of Michigan’s roads should return to gravel and questions over tensions among Democrats.
Months of strained budget negotiations between Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the GOP-controlled Legislature broke down this month. The governor objected to Republicans wanting to use one-time money for roads in Fiscal Year 2020, instead of agreeing to a long-term solution to raise the more than $2 billion experts say is needed annually to fix Michigan’s infrastructure. Republicans then began passing their own department-level budgets.
Last week, state House Minority Leader Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) made the unusual move of cutting a deal with House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) on the K-12 budget.
Whitmer panned the deal. While most of Greig’s caucus voted for the deal, every Senate Democrat voted no. That also came after Greig last month called Whitmer’s 45-cent gas tax to pay for roads “extreme” and said it was likely dead.
At a press conference on Monday on worker protection legislation, Greig was asked to describe her relationship with the governor.
“It’s fine,” Greig said. “I mean, we work together. We’ve got a lot of things to do for the people of Michigan. The budget is one piece of it. And we have conversations and we’re moving together forward.”
The Advance asked Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown about the governor’s relationship with Greig and got a strikingly similar answer, with Brown taking a whack at Republicans for good measure regarding last weekend’s Michigan Republican Party conference on Mackinac Island.
“The Governor’s relationship with Leader Greig is fine,” Brown said in an email. “We are one week away from the budget deadline and we have yet to receive any budget bills. Despite their summer vacation and Mackinac Island weekend getaway, the Republicans have failed to do their constitutional duty and job of getting a budget passed.”
Without a budget in place on Oct. 1, the state will enter a partial government shutdown, as it did in 2007 and 2009.
Greig also was asked on Monday about the criticism of her School Aid budget deal with Republicans and the claim that she was undercutting Whitmer.
“Sure, you know, the budget process is a process, right?” Greig said. “And we all have our roles to play. So, you know, one of our goals is to make sure that we have a budget that the governor can work with when she decides to take her part of the process, too.
“So we saw some very specific fixes that need to be made in that budget that weren’t subject to a line item veto. And so to me, it was good policy to get in there and fix some things before it even got to the governor’s desk, so she didn’t have to worry about it.”
When asked if she’s heard from any Democrats who now regret their vote for the K-12 budget, Greig said, “No, I have not had any specific conversations.”
The minority leader was asked if she was frustrated that Whitmer stopped negotiating with Republicans. Greig criticized the Republican idea to use teacher pensions to bond for road repairs.
“Well, I was frustrated that the only solutions that … Republicans came forth with was to attack teachers’ retirement,” Greig said. “So I think that very point started the whole, you know, issue and then it was a game of chicken. When we were here in the summer, we should have been at the table hammering through this budget, and that did not happen.
“So between only offering up options that attack teachers vs. not coming in here and working on the budget in the summer — you know, I think she had to do what she had to do, right? — to make sure that we were doing everything we could to keep the doors open in Michigan.”
As for the transportation budget — the other big flashpoint in budget talks — Greig said the GOP conference report “looks horrible.” She did praise the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) conference report for including the $120 million for clean drinking water that Whitmer recommended.
When asked if she expected Whitmer to veto any budgets outright, Greig responded, “I do not know.”
Meanwhile, the Detroit Free Press reported that Shirkey said in an interview that Michigan has “too many roads” and “maybe some roads need to be allowed to go back to gravel, for instance.”
Brown, Whitmer’s spokesperson, called his statement “completely unserious.”
“Our state has the worst roads in the country, and Michigan businesses and drivers are demanding action,” Brown said in a statement. “The Senate Majority Leader’s statement just proves that the Republican-controlled legislature is totally unserious about fixing the roads, and it demonstrates why Republican leaders dragged their feet for six months on passing the budget. The governor is committed to fixing the roads, but it’s time for Republicans to get serious, start acting like adults, and start working with her to do what’s right for the people of Michigan.”
However, Senate Republicans weren’t content to let Whitmer have the last word and tweeted, “While @GovWhitmer threatens to shut down the state government, we are passing a responsible, balanced budget that boosts funding for road construction by $400 million! And we’re doing it without a tax hike!”
While @GovWhitmer threatens to shut down the state government, we are passing a responsible, balanced budget that boosts funding for road construction by $400 million! And we're doing it without a tax hike!#MiLeg #MiGov #MiBudget https://t.co/2U3cyjGlJA
— MI Senate GOP (@MISenate) September 23, 2019