After budget drama, Whitmer outlines areas for compromise before meeting with GOP leaders

Michigan Capitol, March 22, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

After signing the Fiscal Year 2020 budget, albeit with plenty of vetoes, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday laid out a list of key priorities she hopes to address with supplemental funding, saying she is “ready to negotiate” with legislative leaders when she convenes a quadrant meeting Thursday.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at a press conference, Oct. 2., 2019 | Laina G. Stebbins

On Monday, she issued 147 line-item vetoes, which amounted to almost $1 billion in cuts from the GOP-led state budget. Whitmer on Tuesday used the State Administrative Board – last used in the early 1990s by former Gov. John Engler – to transfer about $625 million funds within state departments in a maneuver around the Republican-led Legislature.

After a not surprisingly cool reception from GOP leaders, Whitmer held a press conference Wednesday in the Michigan Capitol. 

Her supplemental priorities all involve either restoring or increasing the funding for: Michigan’s Department of Corrections; the Department of Technology, Management and Budget; the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS); literacy coaches; and the student job-training program Michigan Reconnect.

“These are fundamentals that we have to meet so that we can remain competitive,” Whitmer said.

State board OKs $625M in spending transfers, Whitmer invites GOP leaders to budget meeting Thursday

Budget talks had broken down in the weeks before the start of the fiscal year on Tuesday, mainly over roads. Republican leaders had pushed for a one-time use of General Fund money to repair select roads and bridges across the state. Whitmer, whose gubernatorial campaign hinged on a “Fix the damn roads!” promise, wanted more substantial, long-term funding via a 45-cent gas tax hike.

Whitmer told reporters Wednesday that she had made the best decisions she could, given the circumstances.

“This budget process has not been easy,” Whitmer said. “… I’m not out to vilify anyone; I’m not out to punish anyone. I’m out to make sure that we protect the public safety, public health and public welfare of the people of this state. And I have been, and remain ready to negotiate to do that.”

Whitmer vetoes almost $1B in GOP ‘pork barrel’ spending in budget

Whitmer’s priorities are:

  • Reverse budget cuts to Michigan’s Department of Corrections, which would also maintain funding for GPS tethers and fund the Vocational Village inmate job training program.
  • Restore funds to the state Department of Technology, Management and Budget, which Whitmer says would prevent layoffs and strengthen cybersecurity
  • Secure better funding for the state Department of Health and Human Services to protect public health
  • Increase funding for literacy coaches to assist teachers and improve early literacy attainment
  • Fund the first two years of Michigan Reconnect, a student job-training program that Whitmer says will start to close the “skills gap” in Michigan

Amber McCann, spokesperson for state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), said Shirkey plans to attend the quadrant meeting scheduled for Thursday in which Whitmer plans to discuss a budget supplemental.

Speaker Lee Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, May 24, 2019 | Nick Manes

“The Majority Leader has said that if Governor Whitmer feels that she made mistakes with some of her vetoes and wishes to address those mistakes, the Majority Leader is open to that discussion,” McCann wrote in an email.

Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) also has confirmed his plans to attend the meeting.

“After three weeks of not hearing from her on budget negotiations, [Whitmer] went to the media with her demands,” Chatfield spokesman Gideon D’Assandro wrote in an email, “so the speaker has not seen her list yet. 

“He is shocked she is using children’s safety, road repairs, veterans benefits, and people with autism as political pawns for leverage to help her get her pet projects and a gas tax hike.”

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