Over coffee and eggs at an early Thursday morning event, GOP legislators told a politically oriented crowd at Boji Tower in Lansing that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administrative board power should be reined in.
Remarks on the budget process, administration board and road funding dominated the conversation at an event hosted by Dome Magazine and Oakland University featuring bipartisan legislative leaders.
After signing the GOP Legislature’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget with dozens of line-item vetoes, Whitmer on Oct. 1 took the rare step of using the powers of the State Administrative Board to move around $625 million in legislative spending to better align with her priorities. While controversial, the power to do so has been upheld by the state Supreme Court.
State House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) first spoke about cleaning up “some of the budget mess that is still out there,” but expressed that his party wants to curtail Whitmer’s ability to transfer funds using the administration board before budget talks are complete. Chatfield said there should be some restrictions in place to limit this power.
State Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland) and state Rep. Shane Hernandez (R-Port Huron), who lead the Appropriations Committees in their respective chambers, underscored Chatfield’s sentiment.
“The budget is never done” until Whitmer’s administrative board powers are addressed, Stamas said. He added that Whitmer’s use of the board has been a larger issue for Republicans to grapple with than the 147 line-item vetoes she handed down on Sept. 30, although Stamas said there were more vetoes than he had expected.
“The admin board is a huge hurdle,” Hernandez said, agreeing with Stamas that budget negotiations can’t proceed until it is addressed.
At the time, Whitmer had remarked that she did not relish using her power to do so, but insisted that the action was necessary given the state of the budget, which GOP leaders did not negotiate with her. Several hours after the breakfast event on Thursday, Whitmer once again addressed admin board-related concerns from GOP leaders at a press conference in Detroit.
“I’ve been pretty clear, I think, that I’m not going to abrogate executive authority,” Whitmer told reporters, before conceding that she would agree to not use the administrative board if an acceptable supplemental agreement was reached with Republican leadership.
“We can address everything that has created consternation by sitting at the table and having some agreements. … I’m very willing to say I’m not going to use the ad board powers, and I will live up to this agreement. They [Republicans] need to be able to do the same,” Whitmer said.
For his part, state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) was clear that he’s not interested in negotiating further on the budget process, which has been nothing short of contentious.
“Budget’s done,” Shirkey responded quickly, leaving room for silence and some nervous laughter before moving onto the next question.
While Shirkey might be moving on to other matters, both Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature have supplemental spending bills that have been introduced that could be acted upon to restore some of Whitmer’s cuts.
“The truth of this matter is, the budget is not done,” said state Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo), minority vice chair of the House
Appropriations Committee. “We all know that – we all know the talking point. If the budget was done, there wouldn’t be 25 supplementals sitting in the House and Senate.”
State Sen. Curtis Hertel, Jr. (D-East Lansing), minority vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the budget “has been a broken process” and that “there are huge problems if we don’t actually solve this.”
Questions were also raised about when those budget supplementals might be acted upon.
“Next question,” Stamas said.
“Did you say ‘next week’?” Hoadley joked.
“As soon as humanly possible,” Hertel said.
Funding for roads, which has been another point of contention between Republican leadership and the Whitmer administration, also was a hot topic at the breakfast discussion.
The GOP had opposed Whitmer’s push for more substantial, long-term funding for road repair during budget talks, instead insisting on a one-time use of General Fund money to repair select roads and bridges across the state.
Stamas described the timeline for a road funding solution as “an ongoing process.”
Hertel emphasized that the longer it takes to reach a solution, the worse and more expensive the road funding problem gets. “I think the answer should be as soon as possible,” he said.