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GOP Leaders Want Whitmer To Weaken Her Budget Powers

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Cheyna Roth

Republicans who control Michigan’s Legislature say the state budget will not be resolved until Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer agrees to restrict her unilateral power to shift money within departments.

Nearly a month has passed since Whitmer signed a spending plan while vetoing nearly $1 billion in proposed funding to reopen budget negotiations following a breakdown in road-funding talks.

The historic level of line-item vetoes got most of the attention because of the broad impact if the cuts to charter schools, college scholarships, hospitals and other programs are not reversed. But Whitmer’s extraordinary use of the State Administrative Board to transfer $625 million is what GOP lawmakers say must be addressed first.

“I made very clear that I cannot appropriate any more money and send it to the administration unless we have some real assurances on where that money will be spent and where that money will ultimately go,” said House Speaker Lee Chatfield, a Republican from Levering. “There needs to be some restrictions on the Administrative Board.”

He said Thursday the governor-controlled board should have caps on how much money can be moved within each department, much like in the 1970s and 1980s.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Clarklake Republican, said his goal is to ensure that Whitmer and future governors could still unilaterally make transfers within the budget “when it’s necessary” while the Legislature would maintain its spending power.

“Right now, the way the statute is written, there is no balance of power in it,” he said.

Whitmer is not interested in signing changes to the Administrative Board law.

“I’ve been pretty clear. I think that I’m not going to abrogate executive authority, not for my administration or any future administration,” she said Thursday.

She contended, however, that the standoff can be resolved by simply reaching a budget deal — which never happened before the Oct. 1 deadline — including how to address the vetoes and fund transfers.

“We can address everything that has created consternation by sitting at the table and having some agreements,” Whitmer said. “I am very willing to say I’m not going to use the ad board powers and we will live up to this agreement. They need to be able to do the same.”

After the Legislature sent her the final budget in which she had no input, Whitmer moved more than $400 million to fully fund the Department of Education and consolidate the Department of Attorney General’s base operating funds in response to restrictions passed by GOP legislators. But other transfers cut spending in some areas to boost it in others.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Stamas, a Midland Republican, said that is the “larger elephant.”

“The Legislature’s constitutional obligation is to ensure that we put forward a budget,” he said. “When any governor can move the dollars around within the departments, it causes a substantial problem with our oversight.”

Republicans and Whitmer — who have proposed supplemental spending bills to fully or partially restore some of the vetoed funding — have a bit more time to reach an agreement before more spending cuts take effect. Already, charter schools and isolated K-12 districts received less aid in their first monthly installment this past week — though the state could later make them whole.

The initial Michigan Tuition Grant payments, a need-based scholarship for roughly 13,000 students attending in-state private college that Whitmer vetoed, would have been made the first week of November. The first monthly payment to county jails to house state inmates would have been made in mid-November.

Other entities and programs would not be affected until December or into next year.

The coming weeks could be busy on the budget front. The House has six session days remaining before a scheduled three-weak break for hunting and Thanksgiving. The Senate has eight days left.

“Where we are right now has been a broken process,” said Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. of East Lansing, the top Democrat on the Senate budget panel. “This problem is not too big for us to solve. I know that there are hurt feelings and anger and everything else. ... But what everyone should be doing is demanding that we get in the room, work together and solve these problems for the people of Michigan.”

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