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Opinion | Governor’s cuts use people as negotiation tools

Sen. Ruth Johnson

I served in the House of Representatives with now-Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. We even had babies at the same time. On “Take your Daughter to Work Day” almost 20 years ago, we brought our daughters on the House floor, and photos of them playing together received national media coverage for their symbolic message of bipartisanship.

I have respected the governor through the years. I don’t always agree with her on the issues, but I have defended her ability and her right to be in the office she holds. But part of being a leader is recognizing when you have made a mistake — and this past week she made a doozy.

The Legislature produced a balanced budget that was largely bipartisan with no new taxes. It took a lot of work, but we got it done. Unfortunately, the governor line-item vetoed $947 million and moved around another $625 million, hurting our most vulnerable and those in need. 

She cut an extra $375 million for our roads and scholarships for kids headed off to college and $128 million from education — including $35 million to deny some of the most vulnerable children in our state the same funding increases given to other children for their education. The funding for programs to help children with autism or seniors with Alzheimer’s were cut out of the Legislative budget by the governor.

It’s cruel, and it’s wrong.

The Legislature appropriated $7.5 million to help ensure the safety of drinking water for the 25 percent of Michigan residents relying on private wells (more than any other state in the country), but the governor transferred it all to another program that the Legislature had already invested $30 million into. What makes this even worse, is that this was after numerous open meetings, public input and every Senate Democrat supporting the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy budget. People are unknowingly drinking contaminated well water and the governor is now blocking efforts to let people know.

I worked with my colleagues to secure this funding because I believed it was the right thing to do, not because I benefit personally. I helped get grant money for health departments to help people test their drinking water to know if their kids are drinking arsenic, volatile organic compounds or nitrates and it’s making them sick. There is no reason to knowingly let people drink contaminated water that has severe health consequences.

Why cut money from roads and education and other important programs when there is an agreement on the need and the budget was balanced with no new taxes? Why cut from students at risk? Why veto programs with bipartisan support to help our kids read? Why in the world cut $10 million in school building security upgrades to keep our kids safe? It doesn’t make any sense.

Here’s the real scoop. The cuts by the governor were merely to use the people impacted as tools for negotiations. The governor is trying to put pressure on the Legislature to accept a 45-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase. Worse yet, approximately $600 million of the governor’s proposed $2.5 billion tax annual increase would never be used to fix our roads — she plans to use it for other programs.

I grew up in a blue-collar family under the poverty level and worked five days a week at age 13. I know you don’t make a point by hurting people who are already struggling. It’s the governor’s choice to veto the extra $375 million of road funding the Legislature appropriated if she feels we need a better long-term solution in her view. I don’t agree with her, but I think some at least understand that decision. However, the gutting of important programs that occurred earlier this week went far beyond roads.

The governor’s 45-cent gas tax hike was dead on arrival. Not a single member of the Legislature in her own party has even introduced the bill. Move on. We don’t win every battle. You don’t set the house on fire because you want the kitchen remodeled.


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