LANSING — As school districts, sheriff departments, hospitals and other groups make tough choices following state budget cuts, there’s still no end in sight to an ongoing funding dispute between Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the GOP-controlled Legislature.
The Democratic governor told reporters Monday that she spoke with Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield over the Legislature’s Thanksgiving break, but they’re no closer to resolving an impasse over $947 million in spending she vetoed from the state budget in September.
The standoff has been status quo for weeks, after Whitmer made massive cuts and transfers to a budget the Legislature passed without her input. They were reportedly close to a deal in early November, but it fell through when Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey rejected Whitmer’s promises not to repeat a rare maneuver she used to move $625 million within state departments. Instead, he said a limitation on her power should be written into state law.
Whitmer, Shirkey and Chatfield also met Monday with Democratic leaders Rep. Christine Greig of Farmington Hills and Sen. Jim Ananich of Flint, but the budget wasn’t the focus of the conversation, said Shirkey’s spokeswoman Amber McCann.
“We had a pretty good deal that we had come to terms on,” Whitmer said. “If they want to get serious and send it to me, we can get this done in a matter of hours.”
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One thing that may hamper the discussions, Whitmer suggested: Shirkey telling a group of Hillsdale College Republicans that she and other state Democrats are “on the bat-sh*t crazy spectrum.”
“I’m sad to see the kind of rhetoric that’s been used. I think that does a disservice to our ability to find some common ground,” she said Monday. “It mirrors the ugly rhetoric that we’re seeing in Washington, D.C., I ran against that and I’m not going to return in kind.”
Whitmer said she and Shirkey hadn’t spoken about his comments, but that he sent her “an apologetic text message totally out of context” that she “didn’t quite understand until all the [media] stories [about the incident] started rolling in.”
Shirkey publicly said late last month that he regretted his comments, and McCann told Bridge that Shirkey apologized to the governor in person Monday afternoon after Whitmer spoke with reporters.
“He agrees that that kind of rhetoric is not helpful to any negotiation and he recognizes that,” she said. Nonetheless, Shirkey hasn’t changed his stance that Whitmer should rescind her budget transfers and sign off on a legislative agreement about how she can use her powers to transfer in the future.
Gideon D’Assandro, spokesman for Chatfield, told Bridge on Monday that while Chatfield did speak with the governor over break, Shirkey’s still in the conversation.
McCann said Shirkey reached out to Whitmer over break via text, but she was out of the country on a state trip to Israel. All three are continuing to negotiate “to reach a middle ground that makes sense and that helps the people who’ve been affected by these cuts,” D’Assandro said.
Chatfield agrees that “the people of Michigan deserve some real assurances that next time funding is passed for these critical programs that she’s not going to simply cut it again in a political maneuver,” D’Assandro said. “It’s happened once and they want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
They’re referring to Whitmer’s use of the Administrative Board, which she effectively controls, to shuffle around money to better reflect her priorities. That included around $15 million to publicize and implement changes to Medicaid work requirements, $20 million to upgrade state IT systems, $315 million more for education funding and more.
Among her more controversial vetoes were funding for county jails for housing felons otherwise held in state prisons; rural hospitals; the Pure Michigan tourism campaign; rural police patrols; charter schools; private college tuition grants; and autism programming. Many of the vetoes have been seen as having a disproportionate effect on rural communities and GOP-preferred programs.
The Legislature returns from break Tuesday and McCann said they’re hoping to resolve the issue within the next two weeks. The Legislature may meet until Dec. 19, though McCann said they’re currently planning to conclude for the year on Dec. 12.