Budget breakthrough: Whitmer, GOP leaders near deal as Legislature OKs spending plans

Michigan Capitol | Michael Gerstein

By near-unanimous margins, the state Legislature passed supplemental spending bills on Wednesday as GOP lawmakers neared deals with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

Senate Bill 152 will restore more than $459 million in spending for a variety of programs line-item vetoed by Whitmer eight weeks ago as she signed the Fiscal Year 2020 budget she had no input in crafting. The bill will restore spending for a wide variety of programs red-lined by the governor as part of almost $1 billion in line-item vetoes. 

The legislation would restore funding for myriad programs such as reimbursement for county jails, funding for rural hospitals and the Autism Navigator, a program for families with autistic individuals. 

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The process by which Whitmer used the obscure administrative board to unilaterally transfer funds within departments to better align with her priorities has been the source of considerable tension, particularly for state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake). 

But the pending deal, expected to come together next week once each chamber votes on the others’ legislation, has the support of Whitmer, Shirkey and state House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering). 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at a Center for American Progress forum in Washington | Robin Bravender

“The governor is pleased that the House and Senate each took initial action on a supplemental budget that will restore critical funding for public health, public safety, and public education,” Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said in a statement. “This is an important, bipartisan step forward for our state to ensure we are providing essential services to Michigan families and she is hopeful we can finalize it next week.”

Both the state House and Senate also passed a supplemental School Aid Fund bill and legislation to limit the governor’s power over the State Administrative Board, as well as a plan to “establish a target deadline” of July 1 for the Legislature to submit its budget proposal to the governor for review. 

Chatfield spokesman Gideon D’Assandro told the Advance on Monday night that each of the parties “kept talking” over a November break and that all three got close enough today on a deal “where everyone feels good about the final product.”

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State House Democrats also praised Wednesday’s progress. 

“Passing these supplemental budgets is the right thing to do for the people of Michigan,” state House Appropriations Committee Minority Vice Chair Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo) said in a statement. “There’s more work to be done, but all through the budget process, we held the line for the things that matter most to the people in our communities. We will always advocate to make sure Michiganders come out on top.” 

Additional funds vetoed by Whitmer that weren’t included in Wednesday’s supplemental spending bills could be re-appropriated in next year’s budget, according to a report in Bridge. 

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Gilda Jacobs, president and CEO of the nonpartisan policy think tank Michigan League for Public Policy, also praised the progress on supplemental spending. But she stressed that Michigan needs to bring in additional tax revenue to address systemic problems. 

“But while today’s action marked some important and much-needed progress, lawmakers still have miles to go to address the real and most pervasive problem facing our state budget: a glaring lack of revenue,” Jacobs said in a statement. 

“Political infighting over process, priorities, shell games and funding streams—and more importantly, the struggles facing our kids, our workers and our seniors—could all be resolved with bold and courageous leadership to bring in new money and invest in what the state really needs.”