Whitmer, GOP must solve these 5 disagreements to pass Michigan budget

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she’s willing to move forward on a budget without a plan for roads repairs to avoid a government shutdown. But plenty of areas of disagreement remain.

Update: Dems break with Whitmer, pass small funding increase for Michigan schools

LANSING –  Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer did an about-face Monday, agreeing to negotiate the state budget without a plan to raise $2.5 billion for road repairs.

So is everyone in agreement now? Not at all. 

Dropping her roads-money-or-bust vow, the Democratic governor agreed to finish a budget with the GOP-Legislature to avoid the prospect of a government shutdown on Oct. 1, and tackle a roads deal later. But plenty of obstacles remain.

“There are a lot of people who probably think this is an easy job who don’t understand the ramifications of what a shutdown would mean and who think that the Republicans have shown any seriousness in solving the road problem, and unfortunately they would be misinformed if that was their conclusion,” Whitmer told reporters Monday at an event in Grand Rapids.

“The fact of the matter is, a shutdown would be catastrophic for a lot of people that are counting on us to get this done, and I'm not willing to play games with people’s lives.”

Hearings start this week in the Legislature on the $60 billion budget. Beyond roads, here are five key points of disagreement between Whitmer, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Republican from Clarklake and House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering.

K-12 school funding 

Whitmer, the House and the Senate all have proposed different levels of funding for the nearly $15 billion school aid budget, which fund K-12 schools. 

Whitmer wanted to boost spending 3.5 percent, while the Senate wanted a 2.7 percent increase and the House proposed 1.4 percent.

Beyond the numbers, the three plans have differences in how the money would be spent. Whitmer has pushed expanding Michigan’s “weighted formula,” which directs more money to groups of students who can struggle academically, such as students in special education or from low-income families. Michigan’s major teachers' unions have backed this plan.

The Senate plan gives the state’s lowest-funded schools twice the boost of the highest-funded schools. In comparison, Whitmer’s proposal gives lowest-funded schools 1.5 as much money in addition to the weighted formula. Neither the House nor Senate versions include Whitmer’s weighted formula proposal. 

Higher-ed funding

After “Fix the Damn Roads,” one of Whitmer’s most-repeated promises during her campaign for governor in 2018 was to “make a greater investment in our kids’ schools by stopping the raids on the school aid fund.”

Since 2010, at least $4.5 billion in school aid funding has instead gone to Michigan colleges and universities since 2010. Last year, for instance, about $500 million from the school aid fund was supposed to go to colleges and universities before Whitmer’s predecessor, Rick Snyder, canceled the payment. 

Both Whitmer and the House have proposed budgets that redirect money back into the school aid fund that was being spent on higher education, with the governor pushing for  increasing higher-ed funding by 3 percent

But that leaves the question of how to make up the funding lost to higher education. Both Whitmer and the House’s plan hinged on changes to road funding to free up money to replace it, a conversation that will now be kicked down the road. 

Funding for the new redistricting commission 

In November 2018, Michigan voters passed a ballot initiative to create a multi-partisan, 13-member redistricting commission to draw district lines instead of lawmakers, who federal judges have saidgerrymandered the lines for political gain. 

In an attempt to shield the commission from being defunded, part of the proposal required the commission receive at least 25 percent of the appropriation for the Secretary of State office. 

Voters Not Politicians, the group that organized the ballot drive, has said the commission’s budget was supposed to be above and beyond ongoing funding for the Secretary of State, expecting $4.6 milion for the commission.

That’s not how it turned out. 

Whitmer agreed with Voters Not Politicians’ interpretation of the law and proposed a budget accordingly, while the Senate reduced spending in other areas of the Secretary of State to make up for the $4.6 million.

The House cut the department’s spending by nearly a third to reduce the overall commission funding to $3.2 million. 

Less money for attorney general

Republican lawmakers want deep cuts to the office of Attorney General Dana Nessel, who succeeded Bill Schuette, a Republican, in January. The House budget cuts her office 15 percent, while the Senate slashes it 10 percent. The reductions would amount to $4 million to $5 million.

Nessel has said the cuts would be “devastating” and “short-sighted” since lawsuits can generate $10 million for every $1 million of taxpayer funding. In June, she said the Legislature is “cutting the budget of my office … [to] punish me personally for any of my views that I disagree with them on. The fact is it’s going to punish their constituents, and it’s going to be harmful to all our state residents.” 

Chatfield, the House speaker, has said the cuts were proposedto make room for more road money.

The Senate also proposed a 10 percent cut to the state Department of Civil Rights, worth about $1.2 million. Since the chamber passed their budget, the state Civil Rights Commission fired its director over reports he had made sexually inappropriate comments about a woman outside a work event. 

Financial punishment for sanctuary cities

The Senate-passed budget for the Department of Corrections includes a provision that would cost Michigan communities that don’t fully cooperate with federal immigration officials hundreds of thousands of collars. 

The policy would stop a state program that reimburses local law enforcement for housing felons in local jails rather than sending them to state prisons in counties where there are policies prohibiting “communicating or cooperating” with federal immigration authorities. 

Corrections officials say Kent County would bear the largest impact, which currently receives $1.1 million under the reimbursement program but has a policy stating it would not detain immigrants for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement without a warrant. Other affected counties might include Kalamazoo and Washtenaw.

Neither the House nor governor’s budget proposals included a similar plan.

Bridge reporter Ted Roelofs contributed to this report.

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Christina Bush
Tue, 09/10/2019 - 8:57am

In regard to road-repair funding, has the legislature not looked at turning some of our interstates into toll roads, using EZPass to minimize slow-downs for tolls? I recently completed a 3,000-mile road trip through many states where the EZPass I purchased, specifically for the trip, allowed me to cruise right through. It was my understanding, too, that out-of-state travelers paid a higher fee than did residents, at least in some states. To me, this spreads out the cost more equitably between commuters, commercial trucking, and tourists. The money collected needs to then actually go toward the roads and not get pillaged by the legislature when they are not wanting to make the hard decisions to find funding for other programs. The highways that could potentially become toll roads would be 94, 75 (the whole length), 96, and some of the highways in the metro Detroit area. If this idea has been considered and discarded, what were the reasons for saying no?

Kevin Grand
Tue, 09/10/2019 - 10:58am

Why should Michigan Motorists pay twice for the same thing?

The relublican legislature jammed through a perpetual gas tax increase AND raised the cost for vehicle registrations not more than a few years ago after Proposal 1 got crushed at the ballot box in '15.

Also, no one is talking about WHY Michigan Roads aren't lasting (i.e. I-696 & I-75).

Curiously, nobody wants to address that troublesome part of this issue.

Tue, 09/10/2019 - 11:17am

The Interstate System is a combination of previously built existing toll roads and new highways financed by federal fuel taxes. By law the Interstate is supposed to be free, but they figured that it would be more productive to include the existing highways and at the same time allow them to continue collecting tolls.

To start charging tolls on 94, 75, or 96 would require a change to federal law.

Tue, 09/10/2019 - 11:52am

Toll roads only make sense if a lot of out of state travel occurs on the road. We have tourists but almost no one cuts through Michigan to get anywhere (except maybe Canada). If we tolled any of the roads you suggest we are just taxing ourselves and adding the inconvenience and expense of setting up the tolls etc. We would be far better off accepting that everything has a cost and paying the fuel tax. Then out of state tourists are still paying a share at the pump.

Tue, 09/10/2019 - 12:05pm

The problem is with the the Feds. As I understand it they won't allow existing roads to be turned to toll roads. Not that you have a bad idea!

Tue, 09/10/2019 - 2:07pm

The Interstate System is a combination of previously built existing toll roads and new highways financed by federal fuel taxes. By law the Interstate is supposed to be free, but they figured that it would be more productive to include the existing highways and at the same time allow them to continue collecting tolls.

To start charging tolls on 94, 75, or 96 would require a change to federal law.

Tue, 09/10/2019 - 2:07pm

The Interstate System is a combination of previously built existing toll roads and new highways financed by federal fuel taxes. By law the Interstate is supposed to be free, but they figured that it would be more productive to include the existing highways and at the same time allow them to continue collecting tolls.

To start charging tolls on 94, 75, or 96 would require a change to federal law.

Kathi Geukes
Tue, 09/10/2019 - 12:00pm

If the REthuglicans in MI don't get over their "we're so special" attitude...they will be replaced. There is a movement here and across the country...even Kentucky...that Rethuglicans are about the most worthless party walking!! You will be voted out, never to return to politics again...you'll have to move west to find a political job!! The budget is about our state....our kids and having decent roads...if you can't get on board....resign....we'll find someone who has some common sense and who isn't beholden to the Party of Money!!!!

Tue, 09/10/2019 - 6:21pm

Funny, my grandkids like changing words and names to other funny sounding names too! They're and 6 years old.

Tue, 09/10/2019 - 12:40pm

To better understand the mess we are in, it would be beneficial to see a pie chart of where not only is the money going, but where is it coming from. I believe approximately 40% or $25B is coming from Federal funds, and with it mandates that it be spent in specific areas. Of the remaining $35B Michigan generated funds, there are some constitutional mandates that it be spent in specific areas. I believe the so called General Fund May only be about $11B, but items like education or roads may already be getting money from another source. Maybe the powers that be want to keep us mere mortals confused, but my guess is that even some Lansing pols are somewhat confused and will merely vote however they are told to vote.

Craig Reynolds
Tue, 09/10/2019 - 8:08pm

Anybody spent just a second thinking about the cost of installing toll plazas and reconfiguring all the entrances and exits on the superhighways and then the staffing and maintenance required to make this incredibly stupid idea of toll roads functional? The ONLY winners would be the contractors needed to do all the infrastructure work. Straight tax targeting fuel seems the only way to go, aside from replacing Michigan's regressive flat income tax with a progressive income tax to more properly assess those who benefit from being able to work and play in the Great Lakes State. But of course that advance will never be made because a mob of opposition will be ginned up by guess who.

Barry Visel
Wed, 09/11/2019 - 8:56pm

Our budget is $60 Billion. Our tax expenditure budget is $40 Billion (tax revenue we don’t collect). Imagine what our budget could be if we eliminated tax expenditures...that would be tax credits, deductions and incentives. Stop giving tax breaks and our budget would be fine. Hey Bridge, could we please have an in depth discussion about all the revenue we don’t collect because of tax expenditures?...please?

Thu, 09/19/2019 - 10:31am

no more money to universities and college.they raises tuition every years,letd see three endowment funds!from now on all schools have TV monitor installed in each class room and the teacher will b televise from best college or uni.so all children get equal education...and a computer version for grating test ...by computers ,that is correct and leaves teachers free for there after school ..homework no longer needed,,computers does that task..