Whitmer, GOP leaders agree to negotiate budget, COVID orders

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and GOP leaders in the Legislature struck a deal Thursday evening to work together on next year’s budget, COVID-19 relief spending and pandemic health restrictions.

With the Legislature passing initial Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 budgets last week — which included big cuts to some key initiatives championed by the governor — state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell) agreed to fully negotiate the state budget and federal COVID relief funding from the CARES Act and the American Rescue Act with state Budget Director Dave Massaron. 

Michigan has billions unspent from federal stimulus plans, including one signed by former President Donald Trump in December. The new budget year begins Oct. 1.

GOP-led Legislature axes Whitmer programs, reduces federal COVID funding in budgets

“Today’s bipartisan framework shows how we can unite around investing in our schools, small businesses, and communities to help them thrive. I look forward to working with the legislature to invest the billions in federal resources sent to us by both the Trump and Biden administrations and pass a budget that makes lasting investments in our shared priorities,” Whitmer said in a statement. 

Whitmer agreed to withdraw the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (MIOSHA) proposed permanent rules, an extension of the temporary rules in place during the pandemic criticized by Republican lawmakers and business groups. She also agreed to have a conversation about formalizing legislative input on epidemic orders, something GOP leaders have clamored for since April 2020. 

Earlier on Thursday, Whitmer announced that as the state continues to make progress of COVID vaccinations, capacity limits will be lifted for outdoor events, indoor capacity limits will increase to 50% and curfews for bars and restaurants will be lifted on June 1. All broad COVID-19 restrictions, including the mask mandate, will be lifted on July  1.

Whitmer lifts outdoor gathering limits June 1, broad COVID-19 restrictions end July 1

Michigan has 881,057 total COVID-19 cases and 18,815 have died from the virus. About 4.4 million Michigan residents have now been vaccinated, accounting for about 51% of the state’s population 16 and older. In total, the state has administered about 7.8 million vaccines.

The agreement comes after more than a year of tension between the Democratic governor and Republicans who control the Legislature, especially around the Whitmer administration’s COVID orders and how to spend billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief aid. 

“I’ve consistently said I believe the budget process is better with the governor involved, and the state’s pandemic management is better with the Legislature involved,” said Wentworth. “The critical issues facing our state are simply too big and are hurting too many people for us to waste any more time. The people we represent are tired of disagreement and just want results. This agreement is a good first step in getting us to that point.”