Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 5 big asks for new Michigan budget talks

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist attend the State Administrative Board meeting on Tuesday to outline a number of spending shifts in the state budget. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)

LANSING — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has plans for roughly one-third of the $947 million she vetoed from Republican budgets this week and is proposing additional spending on parolee monitoring tethers, literacy coaches and a skilled trades job retraining program for adults. 

The first-term Democrat is looking to restart bipartisan negotiations after an unprecedented appropriations process that saw the Republican-led Legislature approve budgets without her input, prompting her to issue a record 147 line-item vetoes, 72 declarations of unconstitutionality and 13 inner-departmental budget transfers. 

“I can only clean up so much of this unilaterally,” Whitmer said, repeating her characterization of the GOP budget as a “fatally-flawed” mess that was built on faulty assumptions in order to devote one-time discretionary dollars to a “phony” road funding plan.

The governor outlined her top priorities on Wednesday morning ahead of a Thursday meeting with legislative “quadrant” leaders, including Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey of Clarklake and House Speaker Lee Chatfield of Levering.

Her spending priorities total $254.5 million, according to an analysis by Bridge Magazine. 

That would leave nearly $700 million of unallocated money for negotiations with GOP lawmakers, who are fuming over Whitmer’s vetoes to popular programs including the Pure Michigan advertising campaign, support for rural hospitals and charter schools.

“There’s still opportunities for us to talk about what the Legislature’s priorities would be as well,” Whitmer said, reiterating that she could reverse some line-item vetoes as part of future negotiations. 

Shirkey said Wednesday he is in no rush to negotiate a supplemental spending bill because the “budget is done.” Despite her line-item vetoes, Whitmer prevented a state government shutdown by signing all 16 budget bills that reached her desk. 

“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,” Shirkey said. 

“And if the governor, if my governor, thinks that she made a mistake with a red pen, she can let us know which ones she’d like to have back so we can reinstate them.”

Chatfield offered similar commentary in a Wednesday morning radio interview on Michigan’s Big Show and suggested some of the spending Whitmer vetoed could instead be used to rebate state taxpayers.

“I think we need to have a realistic conversation on how that money can be best utilized, whether its a rebate to the people or whether it’s best used on the roads,” he said. “We need to have those conversations. But in my mind, the budget is done.”

Both GOP leaders said they want to turn their focus to policy issues, including criminal justice reform legislation that would “raise the age” of criminal court jurisdiction to no longer automatically prosecute 17-year-olds as adults or sentence them to adult prisons. 

Whitmer is hoping for quick action on a supplemental spending plan but acknowledged “no one has used the executive authority in the way that I did this week,” a reality that has rankled Republicans in the state’s first period of divided government in eight years.

“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 so far as everyone comes to the table in a genuine negotiation made and ready to find some common ground.”

Whitmer is working with state Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. of East Lansing, the ranking Democrat on the Senate budget committee, to craft a supplemental spending bill to reflect her priorities and incorporate other items negotiated with GOP leaders. 

Here are her five funding priorities:

Michigan Reconnect

Republicans cut the $110 million Michigan Reconnect plan from their budget, despite support from business groups for the program that provides free training to adults 25 and older who want to earn an industry certificate or associate degree. 

The program would provide tuition-free skills training at community colleges to fill in-demand jobs, according to the administration, which called it a “life-changing opportunity” to help close the skilled trades gap. 

GPS tethers, prisoner training

Whitmer wants to reverse what her administration calls a $48 million cut to the Michigan Department of Corrections. While the GOP budget actually increased spending by $7 million, the administration contends it relied on restricted funds that are already spoken for and the budget is not actually balanced.  

  • The budget included $4.6 million of what legislative analysts called “unexpended work project appropriations” to replace electronic GOP tethers used to monitor drunk drivers, sex offenders and other parolees. The state’s current contract expires at the end of 2019, and Michigan will be required to purchase new LTE or 4G devices to maintain coverage. Whitmer vetoed the spending, saying those dollars are reserved for other purposes, and declared the shift unconstitutional. But she wants the tether replacement project funded in a supplemental spending bill. 
  • The administration says the Legislatures “unlawful” use of work project funds would also prevent the opening of a new Vocational Village at the state’s only women’s prison in Ypsilanti and could lead to nearly 100 layoffs in the corrections department. Vocational Village is an “internationally renowned” training program that helps inmates learn skills to help them land jobs once they are released, the governor said. 

Cybersecurity, information technology

Whitmer is urging the Legislature to restore $53 million in funding for the Department of Technology, Management and Budget that her office said would cause up to 150 layoffs and jeopardize efforts to protect against cybersecurity attacks. The 23 percent cut in operational spending includes a nearly $30 million reduction for IT, including $2.4 million for cybersecurity efforts and $7 million less than the governor had proposed for a public safety communications system used by first responders. 

Public Health

Whitmer wants the Legislature to “adequately fund” the Department of Health and Human Services, a massive state department that she contends is underfunded by $33 million. 

Whitmer on Tuesday used a rare transfer move to help fund implementation of the state’s Healthy Michigan work requirement program for Medicaid enrollees but said Wednesday that more could be done so ensure a smooth rollout of the program. 

Literacy coaches

The governor wants lawmakers to increase funding for literacy coaches beyond the $14 million bump provided in the GOP budget. Whitmer had proposed a $24.5 million increase for literacy coaches, who work with teachers to teach best practices for reading education. 

Whitmer’s plan would have increased the number of literacy coaches working in intermediate school districts from 93 to 279 and increased state funding per teacher from $75,000 to $112,500. Literacy coaches are “the kind of generational investment” needed to increase Michigan’s abysmal reading scores, the governor’s office said Wednesday. 

 

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