GOP leader on Michigan budget woes: ‘We just need to suffer through it’

“Some states have crippled their economies, like Michigan, based on the actions taken, and we just need to suffer through it for a cycle or two until the economy gets back on track,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said in a recent radio interview. (Bridge file photo)

LANSING – Michigan may not get any more help from the federal government to balance a projected multibillion budget deficit by October, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, according to the most powerful Republican in the state Legislature. 

“I think we need to learn to live within our means,” Senate Majority Leader MIke Shirkey, R-ClarkLake, said this week in a radio interview on WKHM in Jackson, blaming Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for closing businesses to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Some states have crippled their economies, like Michigan, based on the actions taken, and we just need to suffer through it for a cycle or two until the economy gets back on track,” he said.

Shirkey’s comments drew swift condemnation from Democrats. They argue Whitmer’s actions saved lives and are urging Congress to provide more assistance to help states like Michigan avoid steep budget cuts, potentially to services that citizens rely on. 

“This flippant disregard for human life and loss in Michigan is dangerous and destructive,” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said in a statement. “I have lost 23 people to COVID-19. We must put all hands on deck and all resources on the table to prevent people from getting sick, care for those who do, and stop anyone else from dying.”

A Shirkey spokesperson did not reply to Bridge’s request for additional comment. 

The U.S. Senate this week adjourned through at least Labor Day without approving another round of COVID-19 relief. The Democratic-led House approved a $3 trillion relief package in May that included additional funding for states, but Congress and the Trump administration have been unable to reach agreement on a consensus plan. 

Some congressional Republicans do not want to provide more assistance to local governments, who already received $150 billion total in COVID-19 relief funding in April. Michigan used most of its roughly $3 billion to balance the state budget for the current fiscal year.

Shirkey, a business owner whose company qualified for at least $1 million in federal rescue funding this year, said he does not think the federal government should “continue to print money and bury our future generations in even more enormous debt.” 

The only additional federal funding for the state he would welcome, Shirkey said, would be “some very strategic, targeted money for safety equipment for schools” as they begin the academic year in a pandemic. 

Whitmer, in a Friday press briefing, called on the Trump administration to “step up” with additional funding  for states like Michigan “so we can send more resources to our classrooms to keep our kids and our educators safe.”

Congress has also been unable to reach agreement on extended unemployment benefits.

President Trump on Saturday signed an executive order that would provide unemployed residents with an extra $400 a week during the pandemic, down from the $600 a week the federal government had provided through the end of July. But the order is expected to face legal challenges and would require cash-strapped states to cover a quarter of the cost

Michigan budget makers got some good news Thursday when the Senate Fiscal Agency reported that tax collections strongly rebounded in July after having cratered in prior months, partly because of delayed deadlines. 

Officials in May lowered tax collection projections by more than $3 billion for both the current and upcoming fiscal years. But through the end of July, the state this year had collected about $1.1 billion more than estimated, the fiscal agency reported Thursday. 

That could leave the state with closer to a $2 billion budget gap for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Officials will revise their estimates in late August before Whitmer and GOP leaders work to finalize negotiations on a balanced budget, as required by the Michigan Constitution. 

“It’s going to be a very challenging process,” Shirkey said in the radio interview. “A lot of adjustments [will be] made that are going to affect people, especially since it looks like the federal government is going to be reluctant to make… any additional significant investment in the state.”

While Michigan Republicans have criticized Whitmer for locking down the state economy earlier and longer than some other governors, the budget crunch is not unique to Michigan. 

Moody’s Analytics in June estimated that states collectively need about $120 billion in federal assistance to avoid government layoffs and cuts that could cost 4 million jobs nationally. 

The National Governors Association, a bipartisan group, has called on Congress to send states an additional $500 billion to fill budget shortfall. Local government groups have urged additional funding as well. 

“Due to Congress’ inaction, the ability of state and local governments to deliver critical services to the American people is now in serious jeopardy, along with the jobs of millions who work in schools, libraries, police and fire departments, hospitals, road and transit agencies, and other units of state and local government," the group said Thursday in a joint statement.

"Only the federal government, with its central bank, the world’s reserve currency, and unlimited borrowing authority, has the power to avoid these devastating consequences. It is unconscionable that our federal leaders have failed to act.”

Michigan's economy was hit harder than most states early in the pandemic. This spring, it had some of the largest case counts in the country and Whitmer issued broad stay-home and business closure orders. Once third in the nation, Michigan is now out of the top 15 for states in total cases with about 90,000.

Michigan's unemployment rate peaked at a record 22 percent in April, which was the second highest rate in the nation. It dropped to 14.8 percent in June, which still ranked sixth highest in the nation. 

But the state economy has rebounded, at least to a small degree, and is now performing better than some peers. 

Overall consumer spending in Michigan is up 3.1 percent over January levels, according to economic tracker data compiled by researchers at Harvard and Brown universities.

On that measure, Michigan is doing better than states including Georgia and Florida, who took less aggressive actions to fight COVID-19 and were hit hard by the virus in July. Consumer spending in both of those states is down more than six percent compared to January. 

Consumer spending on arts, entertainment and recreation is still down by more than 40 percent in Michigan, where movie theaters and sports stadiums remain closed to the public, but that's less than the 50 percent reduction that sector has seen nationwide.

“Georgia was the first state in the country to reopen its economy and is now averaging five times [as many] new cases of coronavirus in a day than the state of Michigan,” Whitmer said Friday, arguing her executive orders have benefited both public health and the economy. 

“I don’t think anyone in Florida would question that it would be better to be a Michigander right now than a Floridian, because of the stronger position we’re in, the lives that we’ve saved and the crisis that they are still in the midst of,” she said. 

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


middle of the mit
Fri, 08/14/2020 - 3:55pm

Isn't it always nice when people who have an income, and are HIDING BEHIND LAPTOPS tell the rest of us to live within our means, while they apply for and receive up to a $1,000,000 in Federal money for their business?

As the man said , get used to driving on gravel roads.

This is todays GOP.

Remember in November!

Fri, 08/14/2020 - 5:06pm

Funny it's not beneath GOP governor DeSantis to ask for federal help and Trump seems so open to providing federal help to Florida, despite DeSantis' horrible management of the covid-19 crisis.

Fri, 08/14/2020 - 8:50pm

The fat was cut decades ago, the meat was cut years ago, recently they've been cutting the bone. There is nothing to cut. You want business to come to Michigan? Shitty roads, crappy schools and high crime isn't going to do it. Oh and the good businesses don't gravitate towards backwards thinking either.

Shirley G.
Sun, 08/16/2020 - 1:59pm

Amen, Maureen, I couldn't agree more. We deserve better. Everyone, please vote and write to your elected officials to investigate the USPS. We can't let Trump steal another election.

jean kozek
Sat, 08/15/2020 - 8:50am

Mr. Shirkey, a Republican, approves the President's choice to no longer support unemployed workers and business owners with federal tax dollars that we from MI sent to Washington. On the other hand, he blames our Democratic governor for closing businesses to protect from a very contagious virus. These unemployed workers will go into debt. Since economic recovery requires people spending their income, he must realize they will have no income to spent. So, no recovery.

Mr. Shirkey is not asking for federal dollars, our tax dollars, to be sent to MI to help lessen a hit on state income. " We must live withing our means." And the state must balance its budget. So, the state will have to cut over $1 billion in spending to balance the budget. To do this MI workers will lose their jobs. Fewer police and firefighters; fewer teachers; fewer state parks open; and no improvement of MI infrastructure. Again, fewer workers employed will result in fewer dollars for a destitute public to spend.

The governor's choice to close businesses was based on her desire to lessen the spread of a virus; to save lives. Mr. Shirkey's choice to balance the state budget without demanding federal dollars will lead to additional unemployment based on a lame argument to live within our means. He doesn't care that the people who elected him are the people who will suffer. I hope these same voters remind that he could have done something but did nothing.

Shame on Shirkey
Sun, 08/16/2020 - 2:01pm

Shirkey is hypnotized by Moscow Mitch who wants us to declare bankruptcy.

Almighty Dollar
Sat, 08/15/2020 - 9:25am

Apparently, Mike Shirley is the Majority leader of the pro-life death cult. The damage of gerrymandering is simply astounding and deeply disturbing. Vote!

Sat, 08/15/2020 - 1:08pm

I'll say it again. Those "representatives", State and Senate need to take a pay cut. They hand them out to all other State of Michigan workers and now it is way, way, way, passed time for them to take their turn. Show some sacrifice like the rest of us have been living with for a long, long, long, time.

Sat, 08/15/2020 - 2:50pm

I agree for the most part. The federal government was living far beyond its means even before the pandemic hit, and the amount of federal debt we have saddled the next generations with is unconscionable. It would be nice if the federal government could bail all states out (Michigan is not the only state that has been hit, you know), but we simply cannot afford to do so. Michigan was finally back on a fairly firm financial footing, and now we have taken a huge hit that will take years to recover from. Although I disagree with most of the governor's actions during this time, I do agree that shutting down Southeast Michigan was the right thing to do. Shutting down the whole state, however, was not. Many of our small businesses will never recover, no matter how much state or federal aid we come up with. So what can we do? If you can buy what you need at the store downtown, buy it there instead of online or from a big box. Don't assume the price is higher, it isn't always. And if it costs a couple bucks more but helps that store stay in business, then it's a worthwhile investment. I would much rather spend my money that way than have my tax dollars go to pay the interest on our huge federal debt. Go out to eat at your local restaurants, and tip your server a little extra. The restaurants I have been to have been (with one exception, which I won't go back to anytime soon) are being very careful about cleaning, distancing, and masking. I have felt very safe. If you can, donate to food pantries, school programs that provide meals to families in need, etc. We Michiganders need to work together to do everything we can to help our state recover, and not rely on the government to fix everything for us.

Sun, 08/16/2020 - 2:05pm

LH, LOL now you you're a fiscal conservative? Are you trying to resurrect the Teabaggers? If you don't care about basic government servicess, how can we fight Qanon if we cut taxes and increase corporate welfare? Your tinfoil hat is too tight?

Sun, 08/16/2020 - 5:37pm

I've been a fiscal conservative for a long time. Not big on corporate welfare either. I would guess that you and I would not define "basic government services" the same way.

Sat, 08/15/2020 - 5:39pm

Sadly we all have to suffer through the GOP legislature a little longer.

Sun, 08/16/2020 - 10:34am

Mr. Shirkey is absolutely correct. I just wish his common sense approach would be embraced on the federal level as well. We have long lived beyond our means. As families we have to live within our means and we should expect our government to as well. We cannot endlessly spend money we do not have. It is past time for Michigan to have a balanced budget that the legislature and Governor are required to adhere to. No budget tricks, no deficit spending, no multi-year spending projects. We have to learn to live within our means.

Sun, 08/16/2020 - 5:34pm

Well said!

Mon, 08/17/2020 - 9:53am

We just need a more progressive tax structure, like the one we had when that "progressive liberal islamofascist" Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower was president. Fake Republican military guy, right?

Kevin Grand
Sun, 08/16/2020 - 11:07am

The sooner the democrats come to the realization that the federal government IS NOT going to write them a huge check to bail them out from their poor decisions, the better.

Their best efforts to destroy the American economy by "saving lives" in order to win the election in November will ultimately fail.

Just ask the families of anyone Gov. Whitmer stuck in a nursing home what they think about THAT line.

Sun, 08/16/2020 - 2:07pm

If we care so much about wasteful spending, why don't we dock Shirkey for closing the GOP legislature?

Kevin Grand
Sun, 08/16/2020 - 10:33pm

I actually agree 100% with that sentiment.

Contrary to the cries of a very vocal minority, we ARE ALL essential workers.

If you cannot bother to show up for work, then you should not expect to get paid.

This is an issue that could have been easily addressed months ago, and should not put off until literally two weeks before the beginning of the school year.

Dania Mial-Fancett
Mon, 08/17/2020 - 12:59pm

Maybe he should return the "bailout" out money (at least $1 million) his company got and "suffer through it".

Mike in the GLB...
Fri, 08/21/2020 - 9:40am

Remember we must flatten the curve so that the healthcare system is not overwhelmed? Now we are told we must prevent ANYONE from contracting COVID-19. As reported by Bridge, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said in a statement, “I have lost 23 people to COVID-19. We must put all hands on deck and all resources on the table to prevent people from getting sick, care for those who do, and stop anyone else from dying.”

Anyone's death is tragic and my sincere condolences to Lt. Governor Gilcrest for those he's lost to COVID-19. But I must ask, is the sky falling too? Why not take measures to sequester and protect those most vulnerable to the virus and allow the rest of us to re-engage with the economy and generate tax revenue so that precious State coffers can be filled? Honestly Michigan, how long can we wait?