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Schools, local governments spared from cuts under Michigan budget deal

LANSING — Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration and Republican legislative leaders said Monday they've agreed to a framework for the 2021 budget that will protect funding for K-12 schools and local governments despite revenue declines associated with COVID-19.

While additional details were not announced — and other spending cuts are expected — the tentative agreement means Whitmer and GOP leaders appear poised to avoid the kind of prolonged budget battle that led to a near-government shutdown last year.

That's notable, especially given partisan rancor over Whitmer's emergency orders intended to slow the spread of a novel coronavirus that has put the economy into recession and reduced state tax collections.

The pandemic has an "unprecedented impact on our state budget," but spending targets set as part of the bipartisan deal "will provide critical funding for our key priorities such as education, health care and skills training," state Budget Director Chris Kolb said in a statement.

The Michigan constitution requires the governor and legislators to finalize a balanced budget by Oct. 1, when the new fiscal year starts. Both sides got some good news last month when economists improved their projections for the state, predicting a budget deficit of less than $1 billion rather than the $3 billion hole initially feared. 

The deal reached Monday is a “framework” that will set the stage for more negotiations over specific spending plans, Budget Office spokesperson Kurt Weiss told Bridge Michigan. Legislators are expected to reveal detailed proposals in coming days, and "specific numbers" will be "worked out in committee," he said. 

The whole process should be wrapped up by the end of next week, according to legislative leaders, who said they plan to send budget bills to Whitmer’s desk in short order. 

“Even in these most challenging of times, we are coming together to protect the top priorities of Michiganders – including students and schools, and the essential local services people in communities across the state rely on every day,” House Appropriations Chair Shane Hernandez, R-Port Huron, said in a statement. 

“We must proceed wisely and cautiously because the economic and budgetary ramifications of COVID-19 are far from over. The budget for the upcoming fiscal year must be sound and sustainable so we are ready for what lies ahead.”

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