Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas
Budget talks between Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and legislative Republicans again broke down on Thursday night.
While the statements from all parties offer a fair bit of political posturing, they also cast a clear light on the opposing viewpoints, with Whitmer calling for new funding sources for roads vs. GOP calls to move around existing General Fund dollars.
GOP leaders say that Whitmer “walked away” from Fiscal Year 2020 budget negotiations on Thursday and they will now return to work on delivering a budget on their own, echoing statements they made last week.
That comes just days after Whitmer agreed to focus on getting the budget done without a large, new influx of road funding, again raising the stakes for a partial government shutdown. The deadline for a new budget is Sept. 30.
State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) kicked off the round of statements around 6 p.m.
“Our sincere efforts to reach consensus on budget targets came to an abrupt end when my governor ended negotiations this afternoon,” Shirkey said in a statement. “A negotiation must include parties that put forth genuine effort to compromise and reach consensus. We could not have predicted that our talks would break down over my governor wanting less money to fix the roads, but in the end, we could not accommodate her position.”
Asked for clarification, Shirkey spokeswoman Amber McCann said in a text message that Whitmer wanted “significantly less” than the $500 million boost in general fund road money the Senate says it will include in its budget.
McCann added that the “administration was not inclined to put [significant] additional general fund dollars into roads but rather seemed to be satisfied meeting statutory requirements.”
For her part, Whitmer has long held that she views new road funding as the linchpin of her budget proposal that would raise the gas tax by 45 cents. That would raise $2.5 billion in new revenue and $600 million of that would be placed back into the General Fund for boosts in other key priorities, namely education.
Such a proposal ends the “shell game” as Whitmer calls it, wherein money from the roughly $10 billion General Fund is moved between priorities, short-changing each area.
Whitmer alluded to that in her statement on Thursday, noting that the Legislature used much of the summer to take a traditional summer break.
“After months of inaction, the best plan [the Legislature] could come up with would steal money from other priorities and doesn’t fix the roads,” Whitmer said. “This status quo budgeting will only keep our roads the worst in the nation and our schools at the back of the pack. It’s not a real solution, and it won’t solve the crises our state is facing in education and infrastructure.”
Before Wednesday’s impasse, Whitmer, Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) agreed to set spending targets for the roughly $60 billion budget.
A slew of budget conference committees on various department budgets, such as the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Education, have been scheduled for Thursday afternoon. Whitmer told reporters before a 9/11 memorial event in Lansing Wednesday morning that she hoped Republicans would cancel them.
State House Appropriations Chair Shane Hernandez (R-Port Huron) said in a statement that the conference committees will convene.
“The Legislature is moving forward with plans to adopt a fiscally responsible state budget ahead of the Oct. 1 deadline,” he said. “… At this point, our plans are proceeding without consensus agreement from Gov. Whitmer because she continues to play games with road funding and Michigan taxpayers.
“She spent all summer demanding a $2.5 billion tax increase on Michigan drivers, but now she insists our new budget plan invest no additional money toward roads at all. Her position doesn’t make any sense.”
Chatfield tweeted a somewhat more upbeat statement: “The House has said from Day One that we need to ensure we have record funding for roads and schools, and we’re not backing down from that commitment. It’s what the people want. I look forward to working with anyone who shares those goals to get a budget done. Let’s work together!”
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