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Michigan’s Republican Legislature sends budgets to Whitmer — vetoes expected

Update: Michigan government won’t shut down, state tells workers

The Michigan Legislature voted Tuesday to pass the majority of the state budget to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is expected to veto portions of the  GOP-crafted plans before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The budgets — largely opposed by each chamber’s Democratic minority — include multiple items likely to come under scrutiny from Whitmer, including reduced funding for a new state redistricting commission and a plan to withhold portions of jail funding to counties with “sanctuary” policies. 

Related: Michigan GOP budget contains 7 big surprises for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

The largest outstanding question is whether Whitmer will choose to veto $400 million of additional one-time funding earmarked for fixing the state’s crumbling roads and bridges. The $400 million includes $132 million accelerated from a 2015 road funding plan, $25 million dedicated to the local bridge program and $243 million dedicated to other bridge projects ($68 million of that is earmarked for four specific bridges in Dearborn, Ferrysburg, Harrison Township and Lansing.)

The hike to the transportation budget falls far short of the $2.5 billion annually Whitmer sought to add for state infrastructure fixes, a total in line with the estimates of independent experts. Her differences with Republican legislative leaders led to a breakdown in talks with the GOP earlier this month. 

House Speaker Lee Chatfield said the budgets passed Tuesday reflected a willingness “to put people before politics,” and in a jab at Whitmer, he added: 

“Even though the governor chose not to be a part of the process and hasn’t put in any work on the budget in weeks, representatives and senators from both parties banded together to do the right thing for the people we represent and get this done.”

Whitmer, in turn, called the budgets sent to her desk “a total mess.”

“Michiganders deserve better. It’s time for Republicans to stop playing games and put a real road funding solution on the table that keeps drivers safe, ensures our roads get fixed with the right materials and mix, and makes road repairs now so costs don’t keep going up over the long run,” she said.

Since announcing her own budget proposal last March, Whitmer has been pushing a 45-cent-per-gallon increase in the state gas tax, which she said would raise the $2.5 billion experts agree is necessary to fix state infrastructure. 

But that plan proved dead on arrival at the Republican-led legislature. Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and Chatfield balked at the tax increase, which would make Michigan’s fuel tax the highest in the nation. The three were in a stalemate until early September, when Whitmer agreed to table talks about road funding until after the overall budget was passed, in a bid to avoid a government shutdown

Whitmer has opposed the one-time funding for roads included in the current budget; one-time funding only makes long-term funding more challenging because it prevents adequate planning, she said earlier this month

Shirkey and Chatfield have said they’re still committed to a long-term funding plan and that one-time funding wouldn’t prevent them from continuing to seek solutions after the Sept. 30 deadline. 

Shirkey has said he knows that line-item vetoes from the governor are likely to come, but told the Lansing-based subscription political news site Gongwer over the weekend that certain big-ticket vetoes would hurt their relationship and could hamper negotiations going forward. 

Whitmer must also decide whether to strike other controversial parts of the budgets, including a major cut to Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s general fund budget, which in turn would reduce expected funding to a still-to-be-created statewide redistricting commission approved by state voters in November. The commission will replace the state’s current method of drawing state and congressional political boundaries in Michigan in which the political party controlling Lansing draws the lines, which for many election cycles has been Republicans. Funding for the commission is tied to Benson’s budget in the state constitution.

In the budget passed Tuesday, Republicans also included a requirement that Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel — who has been particularly litigious against President Trump’s administration since entering office — go before the Legislature to explain why she decided to enter or file suits against the federal government, as well as a requirement that county jails in counties with “sanctuary” policies be denied reimbursement for housing felons that would otherwise go to state prison. 

Last week, the Legislature also passed an education budget to Whitmer that would add $30 million more for special education students with surprise help from House Democrats, who broke with the governor to approve the plan. That budget, however, did not add more money to help low-income and other vulnerable public school students across the state, as Whitmer has demanded. 

Whitmer is allowed to line-item veto most portions of the budget. Any vetoes can only be overridden by a two-thirds vote of the state legislature. Republicans do not have a supermajority that would allow them to override vetoes without the help of Democrats.

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