The GOP-led state Legislature’s ongoing feud with Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has seeped into the budget process for the next fiscal year, with the state House proposing major funding cuts and attempting to exert more control through a quarterly budgeting process.
“One of the Legislature’s main missions is oversight of how taxpayer money is spent. Moving to a quarterly system for reviewing and approving budgets will help us fulfill that mission,” said House Appropriations Chair Thomas Albert (R-Lowell). “This change ensures more accountability, efficiency and transparency by building it right into the system four times a year through legislative review. It will help us ensure, on behalf of Michigan taxpayers, that their money is spent as intended.”
Budget bills that moved out of Appropriations subcommittees on Tuesday would change funding for Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 from yearly to quarterly (90 days), for some agencies, including the offices of Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who are both Democrats. The Republican-led Legislature, however, would still be funded on an annual basis.
Albert noted that quarterly budgeting would not be used in budgets for education, public safety and certain areas within the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
House Bill 4394 would eliminate the salaries of five “unclassified” positions within the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD). The bill’s H-1 substitute also includes new restrictions on the use of COVID-19 vaccination “passports” that would show a person’s vaccination status that many Republicans have preemptively opposed. These have, so far, not been proposed in Michigan.
Notably, House Republicans also have rejected funding $3.2 million for increased security for the executive office. Whitmer was the subject of an elaborate plot last year by a group of right-wing extremists who had planned to kidnap and execute her, and has had to bump up security as a result.
Whitmer’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
After passing the subcommittee level, budget bills head to the full House Appropriations Committee before getting a vote on the floor. A budget plan for FY 2022 must be in place by Oct. 1 to avoid a partial government shutdown.
Legislation also moved out of subcommittee Tuesday that would slash 75% of the yearly funding to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) and Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Both agencies would also be subject to a quarterly budgeting process.
“This is a critically important plan for the state of Michigan,” said state Rep. Greg VanWoerkom (R-Norton Shores), chair of the House Appropriations General Government Subcommittee.
“It’s a plan that supports and protects taxpayers and families. It helps train our workforce, and leads to a better economic future. It also addresses government lapses and overreach we have seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. At its core, this plan is about good governance.”
The Michigan Environmental Council (MEC), National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and more released statements saying the budget would make it “infeasible” for the both departments to do their jobs.
“If these budget cuts go through, our state would fall into an instability we’ve never seen before,” said MEC Policy Director Sean Hammond. “Parks would close indefinitely and sites contaminated with toxic chemicals would be left to fester, all while Republicans play games with peoples’ lives and livelihoods.”
Mike Shriberg, NWF Great Lakes regional executive director, said proposing such funding cuts to these agencies and “play[ing] political games that harm the state’s ability to do its job by releasing funding in 25% increments, runs counter to Pure Michigan values.
“Our health, wildlife and environment should not be subject to this political gamesmanship and proposed cuts. Natural resources and environmental protections don’t run on quarterly schedules,” Shriberg added.
Leaders of Michigan labor organizations including the Michigan Nurses Association also condemned the GOP budget plan Tuesday.
“This proposed budget is a slap in the face to the working people that have braved this pandemic to keep our state running,” said Lawrence A. Roehrig, President of Michigan AFSCME Council 25.
“AFSCME members have literally risked, and in some cases lost, their lives in service to our communities. Instead of gratitude, they are getting slapped with more cuts. Michigan’s working families need real investments in programs and services to curb the pandemic’s devastating impact. … The whole process needs to find a way to work out REAL solutions to this crisis. This proposed throat-cutting budget certainly isn’t one of them,” Roehrig said.
Ron Bieber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, characterized the budget as “nothing more than an expression of [Republicans’] unhinged anger that the governor has dared to act to protect people from a deadly virus over the last year.”