Dem spending bills emerge as budget talks resume

By: - October 10, 2019 4:35 pm

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday that “good faith” efforts are being made to complete the budget process by as soon as next week. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at LCC, Oct. 10, 2019 | Nick Manes

Whitmer and GOP legislative leaders met Thursday morning. State House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) called it a “productive conversation,” but declined further comment. 

A week after Whitmer vetoed almost $1 billion in GOP spending in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget, Republicans put forward supplemental bills totaling $257 million containing many of their priorities that had been cut by the governor. 

Then on Thursday came Whitmer-backed supplemental spending bills that contain some of the GOP priorities. 

State Sen. Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing), the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, introduced a $355 million supplemental omnibus bill that would provide funding for several of the governor’s priorities and serves as an “olive branch” by containing some of his Republican colleagues’ priorities, as well. 

Sen. Curtis Hertel | Casey Hull

“I think it shows that there is a good faith attempt to try to find some common ground here,” Whitmer said of the supplemental bills following an event on Thursday at Lansing Community College. “And hopefully we can. You know, I want to continue to do my job and make sure that we’re protecting the health and safety and welfare for the people of this state.”

In addition to Hertel’s multi-departmental bill, he introduced a supplemental School Aid Fund bill to pay for literacy coaches and Michigan Reconnect, a workforce development program. State Sen. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City) also introduced a supplemental spending bill to provide $7 million for rural school districts. 

Identical companion bills were also introduced, or set to be introduced, in the state House.

Hertel said he’s hopeful this all sets the stage for getting the budget fully completed. 

“You know, [the Republicans] put 23 separate priorities out; [Whitmer] put her priorities out there,” Hertel told reporters. “It sounds like that’s a good start for negotiations.” 

Hertel’s omnibus budget would include additional funding for state departments including Corrections, Technology, Management and Budget and Health and Human Services. 

It fully restores funding for a program to support families with autistic members, which Whitmer vetoed. It also provides $2 million to implement the Independent Redistricting Commission and added funding for several programs benefiting rural areas of the state.

State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) has no specific opinion on the supplemental legislation, said spokeswoman Amber McCann. 

“It’s just a sign that our colleagues on the other side of the aisle are also preparing for, hopefully, eventual progress on the budget,” McCann told reporters. 

While Whitmer said she could envision signing a negotiated spending bill by as early as next week, McCann said the chamber has no timeline, but is “cognizant” that several of the programs could be out of funding in the coming weeks.

One thing not included in the Democratic-backed spending bills is restoring $38 million in funding for tuition grants for students at private colleges and universities, which Whitmer vetoed. That’s been a longtime priority for Republicans and GOP members of Congress have written Whitmer a letter pleading for the funds.

The governor said that as long as negotiations continue in good faith, nothing is off the table. 

“Obviously, there’s a lot we could talk about and if there’s a willingness to do that, certainly I’m open to that,” Whitmer said.

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Nick Manes
Nick Manes

Nick Manes is a former Michigan Advance reporter, covering West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels.