Susan J. Demas: GOP’s 2018 pork-laden spending spree wounds Whitmer’s plans

February 4, 2019 11:30 am

Gretchen Whitmer (left) and Rick Snyder (right)

Can we just end the myth of fiscally responsible Republicans once and for all?

It’s bad enough that in 2017, President Trump and his GOP Congress passed a budget-busting tax giveaway to the rich, which has left us with a national debt of $21 trillion and counting. And the federal deficit is projected to approach $1 trillion this year.

But at this point, only rubes expect wise fiscal stewardship from the president, who warranted a fact-check on just how many times he went bankrupt in his various business ventures. (It’s six, in case you’re wondering).

The real gut punch was delivered, however, by Michigan GOP Gov. Rick Snyder on his way out the door last year.

His Lame Duck drunken-sailor-esque spending spree sapped $500 million from state coffers, making it considerably harder for new Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to actually invest in schools (a novel concept) and, of course, “Fix the damn roads.”

President Donald Trump announcing a deal has been reached to reopen the government through Feb. 15 at the White House, January 25, 2019 | Olivier Douliery-Pool, Getty Images

Snyder rode into town as our “One Tough Nerd” governor, vowing to take his CEO bona fides and whip an unruly bureaucracy into shape and stop the budget bleeding. Of course, his corporate experience was running Gateway, which laid off thousands of American workers and eventually was sold off to a Taiwanese company.

So perhaps we should have known that our CPA governor was too good to be true.

After a tenure marred by the Flint water crisis, when people’s health took a back seat to balance sheets, Snyder couldn’t even stick to his “economic comeback” agenda by the end.

As Snyder was bragging at his final year-end press conference about his fiscal triumph with a 52-page document, he and his GOP allies in the Legislature were cooking up a $1.3 billion behemoth of a spending plan that ballooned from its initial $630 million price tag.

52-page document | Ken Coleman

The topline goodies included a “shift” from the School Aid Fund for K-12 education, which left teachers livid, and the monetary equivalent of a drop in the bucket for road improvements.

While Snyder stressed he had padded the state’s “Rainy Day Fund,” he didn’t have much to say about the pork-barrel spending that loaded up his Lame Duck plan.

There was more than $100 million for lawmakers’ pet projects, including $18 million for a parking ramp for the state Senate, $10 million for a ski jump in the Upper Peninsula, $2 million for the Detroit Economic Development Association to prepare for the city’s first-ever Professional Golf Association, and even a $10 million grant benefiting former Michigan Republican Party Chair Bobby Schostak.

The Republicans’ spending mania tore through Michigan’s budget, draining a net $500 million in surplus. That’s a half-billion less that Whitmer now has for her agenda and she’s understandably “not happy” about it, as she told reporters last week.

Gretchen Whitmer at the MDP Convention, Feb. 2, 2019 | Ken Coleman

Coupled with the fact that the a recession is likely to hit during her term, Whitmer could face the kind of severe financial challenges that the last Democratic governor, Jennifer Granholm, was pilloried by conservatives for not magically solving.

At this point, it’s time we acknowledged that this kind of wanton fiscal irresponsibility is a feature, not a bug, of Republicans in office.

In Washington, former Vice President Dick Cheney blithely declared that “deficits don’t matter” during the George W. Bush era, while former President Barack Obama faced endless attacks from the tea party for his stimulus to jolt America out of the Great Recession. And Trump’s spending puts even the caricature of socialists to shame.

While the federal government can run deficits, states don’t have that luxury. In spite of that, GOP governors keep killing their budgets with deep cuts and tax cuts for millionaires and corporations, leaving states like Kansas, Wisconsin and Oklahoma in fiscal disarray.

Former Michigan Gov. John Engler, July 24, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. | Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

And Granholm knows a little bit about a GOP governor stepping on her plans for Michigan. Before leaving office in 2002, John Engler — yes, the same man who just had to resign from running Michigan State University — and the Republican-controlled Legislature turned a big budget surplus into a $1.8 billion deficit.

“The end result has been a fiscal disaster and a situation where middle- and low-income families have been short-shifted,” said then-state Rep. Andy Meisner, who’s now Oakland County treasurer.

That just goes to show you that the more things change in Michigan, the more they stay the same.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 22-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQ+ people, the state budget, the economy and more. She previously served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 90 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 5,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 80 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two kids along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.