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Michigan budget breakthrough in works as Gretchen Whitmer, GOP near deal

Whitmer

LANSING – A months-long budget standoff could be nearing an end, as Michigan lawmakers moved bills Wednesday to reappropriate some $573.5 million of the nearly $1 billion Gov. Gretchen Whitmer line-item vetoed from the state’s 2020 budget.

Millions of dollars would be returned to programs that fund rural police patrols, charter schools, isolated school districts, county jails, autism programming and rural hospitals, among others. The bills would also reverse millions of dollars worth of transfers Whitmer made using a rare maneuver with the State Administrative Board in October. 

The bills passed unanimously in the Senate and nearly unanimously in the House. One notable absence from the deal is funding to continue the Pure Michigan advertising campaign.

“While this does not restore all of the governor's vetoes and transfers, it is a good first step in the right direction,” said Senate Appropriations Chair Jim Stamas. “It is my hope this is the last time any of these programs are caught in the political crossfire.”

Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, said the proposals were shaped with input from both GOP leaders and Whitmer. The more than $400 million left over from Whitmer’s cuts would likely be reappropriated early next year.

“This is an important, bipartisan step forward for our state to ensure we are providing essential services to Michigan families and (Whitmer) is hopeful we can finalize it next week,” spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said in a statement Wednesday evening.

Both chambers approved identical versions of the legislation, and it must be approved by the other before being sent to the governor and could be changed before then. 

They also moved two bills that would affect the budget process: One would require the Legislature to send the budget to the governor by July 1 each year, and the other would restrict the powers of the State Administrative Board. 

Top aides for the GOP leaders said the bill containing board changes is a “shell bill” that doesn’t represent final policy — the bill is expected to be changed next week when GOP leaders reach an agreement with Whitmer.  

“I think the fact that we’re moving on bills suggests that there is significant progress than we’ve seen previously, but it is still an evolving negotiation,” McCann said. 

Both Republicans and Democrats are getting some of their preferred programs back under the supplemental spending bills.

Among the GOP-favorite programs that would be restored: $7 million for isolated school districts; $1.25 million for Autism Navigator, which provides resources for families with autism; nearly $22 million for rural hospital and ob-gyn services; $13.1 million for secondary road patrols; $5 million for summer school reading programs; $10.5 million for early childhood reading coaches; $10 million for school safety measures; $35 million for charter schools; and $27.4 million in funding for counties that house public lands.

Several other items were included at the governor’s request: $2 million to help the Secretary of State’s office implement the independent redistricting commission; $13 million for urban public transit systems; $10.5 million for training new corrections officers; $4.5 million to replace GPS trackers for parolees; $4.5 million for lead paint abatement; $3.9 million to implement new Medicaid work requirements; $3.2 million for implementing the no-fault auto insurance package; $15 million for IT upgrades; and $10 million for 2020 Census support among others. 

The bills come after weeks of back-and-forth between Whitmer and GOP leaders. 

Republicans were incensed by Whitmer’s use of the Administrative Board to shift $625 million within departments, which they perceived to be a violation of the separation of powers. She said the transfers were necessary after the Legislature passed the budget without her input, itself a rare move. Republicans contended she walked away from negotiations.

Whitmer and Chatfield appeared to reach a deal three weeks ago, but it fell through when Shirkey insisted a restriction on the Administrative Board’s powers be codified in law. 

That’s the element of the deal that remains the most fluid: The top aides to GOP leaders said Wednesday the final agreement will be negotiated over the weekend and likely finalized next week.

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