Whitmer signs $70B Michigan budget: What survived, thrived and died
LANSING — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday signed what she called an “overwhelmingly bipartisan” budget plan, but also struck several controversial COVID-19 and abortion-related provisions inserted by Republicans.
In doing so, the first-term Democrat balanced the state’s books two days ahead of the constitutional deadline to avoid a partial government shutdown.
The finalized legislation, brokered by Whitmer and GOP leaders, will send $53 billion to state departments and local governments through September 2022, along with another $2.2 billion for universities and community colleges.
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Combined with a $17 billion K-12 education bill Whitmer signed in July, the 2022 budget totals nearly $70 billion, up from $62.7 billion last year.
After a year marked by fights over COVID-19 pandemic policy and other issues, Whitmer called the budget proof that "divided government doesn't have to be dysfunctional government."
And there is much more spending to come.
Whitmer and legislative leaders are now expected to resume talks on how to spend nearly $6 billion in unspent federal stimulus funds, along with nearly $5 billion in surplus state revenues.
Negotiations that produced the annual budget Whitmer signed Wednesday could be “the framework for future bipartisan achievements to improve our state and the lives of the Michigan people,” said Senate Appropriations Chair Jim Stamas, R-Midland.
“We listened to the people of Michigan and prioritized getting kids back in school, improving access to childcare, fixing local infrastructure, and ensuring safe drinking water in our homes.”
Here’s what to know about the budget:
COVID response limits are ‘unenforceable’
While Whitmer and legislative leaders agreed on the overall spending plan, they effectively agreed to disagree on several controversial provisions Republicans added to the budget bill with the expectation the governor would nix many of them, which she did.
After a legal review by her office, Whitmer deemed "unenforceable" and unconstitutional language that had sought to prohibit local mask mandates and government vaccination rules.
And the administration said public universities, as “autonomous entities” under the state constitution, don’t need to adhere to language that sought to weaken vaccine mandates by requiring them to “presume” a student who requested an exemption was entitled to one.
Whitmer spokesman Bobby Leddy called the provisions “dangerous” and “anti-public health.”
“With the delta variant circulating, it is important for Michiganders to have every available tool in their toolbox to protect themselves and others from this deadly virus,” he said.
The Whitmer administration will honor a provision Republicans inserted into the budget bill requiring the state health department to prepare reports on any new pandemic orders it issues over the next fiscal year. Those reports must explain the rationale for any new orders, evidence to justify the policy and a list of experts who were consulted during its development.
Child care among big ‘winners’
Whitmer said the new budget will "put Michiganders first" and delivers on priorities her administration has pushed since she took office in 2019.
Most notably, the deal uses $1.4 billion in federal COVID relief funds to help support child care providers, bring down costs and expand subsidies to another 105,000 Michigan families. There is also $30 million for a one-time $1,000 bonus for child care staffers.
“Expanding child care can give parents peace of mind and offer kids a safe, healthy place to grow and to learn and play,” she said. “It also helps small businesses, of course, who are working to staff up.”
Other notables in the budget deal include:
- Free college: The budget includes a $25 million funding bump for the governor’s Michigan Reconnect program, which offers free community college or job training for residents age 25 or older. There’s also a $39 million bump for Future for Frontliners, which Whitmer launched last year to provide free tuition to "essential workers."
- Ambulance providers: Michigan has burned through EMTs and paramedics, leading to shortages across the state. The new budget would boost funding for ambulance providers by guaranteeing them Medicare reimbursement rates, an increase of $54.3 million next year.
- Direct care workers: The budget deal includes $164.5 million to make permanent a pandemic-inspired pay raise for direct care workers. Those workers — who care for seniors and persons with disabilities — got a $2 per hour raise last year, which will continue and in many cases increase to $2.35 per hour.
- Roads and bridges: The budget increases Michigan's total transportation budget by $129 million, including $12 million for state roads, $53 million to local road agencies and $28 million to a local bridge program. Whitmer said the money will repair or replace 100 crumbling bridges, while another $38 million will go toward debt service on the $1.6 billion in bonds her administration has sold.
- Police: Michigan State Police will get an 8 percent funding increase under the new budget, which includes $3.8 million for body cameras and support staff and $4.5 million for a professional development bureau that will oversee training on topics like mental health, cultural competency, communication and de-escalation to avoid violent encounters.
Yes, there is pork
Like her predecessor, Whitmer has routinely agreed to so-called “pork” spending as a way to grease the skids for budget votes. The 2022 budget is no exception, with nearly $147 million in “enhancement grants” that lawmakers requested for their individual districts.
In past years, some grants have proven controversial, including a $10 million grant that benefited the former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party but was ultimately canceled.
Whitmer defended the practice Wednesday, citing the give-and-take nature of budget negotiations. The administration agreed to lawmakers’ priorities, while they agreed to some of her priorities they may not have been “keen on,” she said.
“That’s how negotiations work, and I think this budget really reflects the best of bipartisanship,” she said.
The spending deal will fund 175 pet projects. Some of the most expensive include:
- $10 million for the Jackson Intermediate School District to upgrade heating and cooling systems at Front Elementary School.
- $7 million for “waterway improvements” on the Grand River in Grand Rapids as part of the Restore the Rapids project
- $6.5 million “to support” the Midland Community Center
- $6 million for Luce County road repairs and paving
- $5.2 million for the Point Betsie Lighthouse along Lake Michigan between Frankfort and the Sleeping Bear Dunes
- $5.2 million to “prepare and build a facility” at the Kent County Youth Fairgrounds
- $5 million for the Midland Center for the Arts
- $5 million for an 800 MHz Frequency Tower in Berrien County to improve communication for First Responders
Whitmer vetoed GOP abortion alternative spending
Whitmer used her veto powers sparingly relative to 2019, when she cut nearly $1 billion in spending from a GOP budget bill.
This time, the governor vetoed roughly $17 million in abortion-related funding proposed by Republicans, which she argued would have promoted an “anti-choice political agenda.”
The vetoes include $10 million that Republicans included for a marketing campaign to promote adoption as an alternative to abortion, $3 million for a new “maternal navigator pilot program” provided funding to organizations that promote alternatives to abortion and $1.5 million for “pregnancy resource centers” that advise against abortion.
Whitmer also cut $1 million to fund university and community college “pregnant and parenting student services” while barring them from referring women to abortion clinics.
Right to Life of Michigan criticized the vetoes, saying the funding would have supported "life-affirming programs" including infant adoption.
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