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Gretchen Whitmer uses line-item veto – 147 times – on GOP’s Michigan budget

LANSING — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday used her line-item veto power to cut nearly $1 billion from the Republican-led Legislature’s $59.9 billion budget, including spending for schools and roads.

The first-term Democrat signed all 16 budget bills at 7 p.m., five hours before the start of the state’s new fiscal year Oct. 1. That prevented a government shutdown, but upped the ante in a months-long standoff with Republicans over the budget.

Among her vetoes: Plans to spend $375 million for state roads, which Whitmer has long contended need at least $1.9 billion in repairs. She has proposed a 45 cent per gallon gas tax, and has said she wants to resume negotiations toward a long-term funding solution.

“I had to use the line-item veto to try to clean up budgets that were a complete mess, built on phony numbers, using funds in the wrong way, usurping executive power,” Whitmer said in a statement. “These are important things that I had to eliminate from these budgets.”

 

Whitmer’s office did not immediately provide a full list of her line-item vetoes and completed budgets were not yet available through the Michigan Legislature. 

The governor instead only issued a statement explaining some of the cuts, which included a veto of $128 million for what the governor called “pork barrel spending” in the budget that goes to K-12 schools. As of late Monday, the administration had not documented $444 million in spending provisions she had rejected. 

Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield responded to the governor’s announcement Monday, calling the budget stalemate “silly and completely avoidable.”

“Now that her shutdown threat has been shown to be nothing more than empty words, the cameras will stop rolling and the headlines will move on,” Chatfield, a Levering Republican, said in a statement. “Hopefully that means she will finally accept our invitation to come back to the negotiating table and get back to work.”

Whitmer’s veto action came three weeks after negotiations with GOP leaders broke down and the Legislature took the rare step of approving budgets developed without her administration’s input.

The governor appears poised to use a rare maneuver of her own: The State Administrative Board, which the governor controls, has the authority to transfer funds within departmental budgets and is set to meet Tuesday morning for a special session. 

Whitmer’s aggressive use of vetoes contrasts with her predecessor, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder (who worked with a Legislature dominated by his own party for the entirety of his time in office). He occasionally used his line-item veto power to modify GOP budgets, most recently in 2017 when he axed $6.4 million in proposed spending. He also deemed various provisions unenforceable, including a 2018 plan to strip funding from Planned Parenthood.

Here’s a rundown of what Whitmer vetoed:

Roads

Whitmer line-item vetoed $375 million of the $400 million in one-time road and bridge funding Republicans had added to the budget after the two sides postponed negotiations over a long-term road funding plan.

The majority of that — $243 million — would have been restricted for use on four crumbling bridges in Dearborn, Ferrysburg, Harrison Township and Lansing that Whitmer visited earlier this year while promoting her gas tax proposal.

The GOP spending plan included $132 million in extra one-time money for state and local roads, along with an additional $25 million for a local bridge program that municipalities can apply for. It's not immediately clear which portion of the funding Whitmer left intact. In March, she proposed a $2.5 billion plan to raise gas taxes by 45 cents per gallon.

The governor "remains ready to roll up her sleeves to achieve a real, long-term funding solution that will actually fix the damn roads," her office said in a release.

“The governor campaigned on a promise to fix Michigan roads – yet she just rejected $375 million to boost repairs without tax increases or cuts to essential services,” House Appropriations Chair Shane Hernandez said in a statement Monday night. “The governor is trying to go around the legislators elected to be the voice of the people in state government and change how we invest taxpayer dollars.”

Schools

Whitmer vetoed $128 million of spending she said “steals precious classroom dollars and instead hands it out to commercial vendors.” 

While details weren’t available Monday evening, the move follows pleas from a group of lawmakers who wrote a letter to Whitmer last week asking her to veto state spending on private vendors including $7.3 million for a “virtual learning think tank,” $3.8 million for an emergency reporting app, or $9 million for an online testing system. 

The School Aid budget the GOP-led House and Senate passed earlier this month raised spending for schools by $136 million less than what she’d proposed. It included a 1.4 percent to 3 percent increase in per-pupil funding and a small raise in special education money; her original budget proposed a larger 4 percent increase in special education funding. 

Bridge reporter Ron French contributed to this story.

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