Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday she will seek funding for a variety of budget priorities from the Republican-led Legislature after she slashed nearly $1 billion from a spending plan that had been approved without her input.
The Democrat plans to seek a supplemental budget bill for various departments and initiatives, including prisons, reading coaches and a tuition-free program for nontraditional college students. But the fate of that expected request is tenuous in the wake of Whitmer’s recent vetoes and an ongoing impasse with GOP legislators over how to fund repairs for Michigan’s badly crumbling roads.
“I understand that no one has used the executive authority the way I did this week. I understand that it’s going to take a while to absorb the reality of what has been done with these budgets,” Whitmer said. “But I also think that time is of the essence, and I remain eager to negotiate with the Legislature.”
Numerous Republicans, however, appeared in no rush to act, saying the budget process “is done” for now.
Whitmer signed the $59 billion plan this week, hours before the deadline, while also issuing a historic number of vetoes totaling $947 million, including $555 million, or 5%, of the $10.7 billion general fund. She also used a board to unliterally transfer $625 million in funds within department budgets.
Some or much of the nixed funding could be restored if Whitmer and the Legislature reach an agreement. Republicans sent Whitmer the budget after alleging she had walked away from negotiations. She said they gave her ultimatums.
GOP Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey of Clarklake said it is up to Whitmer to seek legislative help to undo her vetoes, saying he is ready to move on and tackle other policy issues.
“There’s a lot of things in those line-item vetoes that the citizens of the state of Michigan are desperately waiting for a correction on,” he said. “If my governor thinks she made a mistake with her red pen, she can let us know which ones she’d like to have back so we can reinstate those or at least consider reinstating them.”
Whitmer said her priorities include adequately funding three departments _ Corrections; Technology, Management and Budget; and Health and Human Services _ that she said are at risk of not being able to protect public health and safety under budget. She also wants to triple the number of literacy coaches and secure approval of her Reconnect program to provide tuition-free community college or technical training for an estimated 51,000 nontraditional students age 25 and older without an associate's or bachelor's degree.
She did not indicate a desire to link passage of the legislation to her long-dead 45-cents-a-gallon fuel tax increase.
“I am ready to look to the future, to sit down with the legislative leaders and negotiate a supplemental that shores up our budget on these particular fronts and others that they might be interested in chatting about,” said Whitmer, who is open to reversing some of her vetoes pending negotiations.
The vetoes affect significant parts of the budget _ including funding for roads, hospitals, counties, need-based college scholarships, tourism advertising and charter schools.
Whitmer was again especially critical of the Corrections Department budget. She accused Republicans of making “illegal” moves to help shift discretionary general funds to roads and bridges while leaving the agency with “reckless cuts” and unable to replace GPS tethers for paroled inmates or fund a successful vocational training initiative. She vetoed most of that transfer, $375 million, to the transportation budget.
Asked which vetoes concerned him the most, Shirkey said “the list is long.”
Whitmer’s administration had no initial estimate on the size of the pending budget request but said it could resolve challenges in the three departments while also restoring funding for many vetoed items.
Most of them were not included in the budget proposal Whitmer unveiled in March. But many of the bigger-ticket items _ such as need-based scholarships for students at Michigan’s private colleges, the Pure Michigan tourism and marketing program, a funding increase for charter schools _ were, albeit at lower levels than under GOP-approved legislation.
One big issue is the prisons budget.
Republican Rep. Thomas Albert of Lowell, who helped write it, accused the Whitmer administration of releasing “lies” and “misinformation.” He said it is not uncommon to move unspent funds previously designated for long-term work projects, and Whitmer vetoed money for the new tethers.
“The money is there,” Albert said. “What we really have is we found a slush fund that they didn’t want the legislators to use.”
But Corrections Director Heidi Washington said the department faces what effectively is a $48 million cut, and the Legislature’s attempted reallocation of money that already has been spent or does not exist is a “serious concern.”
Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. of East Lansing, the top Democrat on the Senate budget panel, defended Whitmer’s vetoes.
“I think she had no choice considering what was put on her desk,” he said.