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 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.
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.
Related roads stories:
- Michigan House Dem leader says Whitmer’s 45-cent gas tax is probably dead
- Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: Leaders should 'stop playing games' on roads funding
- Pressure builds on Michigan Republicans for roads plan to avoid shutdown
- Republican ideas to fund Michigan road repairs taking shape over summer
- Here are 9 ways to build better roads in Michigan, from old tires to pig poop
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.