No progress on post-budget fight, as Republicans pop bills to curb Whitmer’s power

By: - October 30, 2019 3:46 pm

Michigan Capitol, Sept. 20, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

The war of words, letters and legislation continues to heat up as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and GOP legislative leaders volley back and forth on negotiating supplemental budgets.  

For her part, Whitmer sent a letter on Tuesday to state House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) expressing a desire to further negotiations. She would not, however, relinquish executive office powers, most notably the use of the State Administrative Board. 

Another Michigan budget standoff dawns

Later on Tuesday, GOP House lawmakers introduced legislation to limit the executive power of the State Administrative Board, which is normally used for authorizing state contracts but also wields the ability to unilaterally transfer appropriated funds within state departments. 

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, Sept. 19, 2019 | Nick Manes

Shirkey particularly said he wants to see all of the governor’s $625 million in board transfers rescinded. 

“I’m a process guy. I enjoy process,” Shirkey told reporters on Wednesday. “And I believe that the first step of that process would be for her to reverse all of the transfers.”

Asked whether that’s the only step the governor could take to reboot negotiations, Shirkey said: “I don’t know what else other things she might be contemplating, but that’s a very good first one, as far as I’m concerned.”

That’s a similar sentiment to one expressed in a separate letter later Tuesday from Shirkey and Chatfield. 

Speaker Lee Chatfield | Nick Manes

Chatfield spokesman declined to comment beyond the letter which urged her to “rescind all transfers [as] the first crucial step in restoring balance to the budget process.” 

The parties met over dinner and drinks on Monday night and have agreed to continue talking, Shirkey said.

“The governor has said repeatedly that she is ready to negotiate, but Republicans have made it clear that they are unwilling to do so,” said Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown. 

The governor said in her letter that she would arrange for a special meeting of the board to reverse the transfers should the parties come to a negotiated agreement, but this week’s proposed meeting has been canceled.

Among Whitmer’s vetoes that have caused consternation for Republicans and other stakeholders are $38 million for Michigan Tuition Grants, which have long been a GOP priority and funded tuition at many of the state’s smaller, private colleges; $37.5 million for the Pure Michigan advertising campaign; and several cuts to programs that send public dollars to private and charter schools.

State board OKs $625M in spending transfers, Whitmer invites GOP leaders to budget meeting Thursday

Meanwhile, lawmakers have moved to introduce bills to limit the amount of money the governor can transfer on any one line item to $200,000 in one budget year. 

Bill sponsor state Rep. Ben Frederick (R-Owosso) in a statement said the bill would return the board to parameters that existed in the 1970s and 1980s, adjusted for inflation. 

“Our reforms are designed to protect the budget process – and to ensure Michigan’s most vulnerable residents are not attacked and used as pawns in the process,” said Frederick. “Our reforms would ensure a governor cannot eliminate funding for entire programs or start new ones without input from legislators – but a governor would still have the flexibility to address a shortage of staff or resources in key areas.”

Rep. Shane Hernandez at the Fiscal Year 2020 budget presentation | Casey Hull

Another bill from state Rep. Shane Hernandez (R-Port Huron) would bolster the Legislature’s authority on transfers. 

Whitmer spokeswoman Brown said it’s highly unlikely the governor would sign such legislation if it made it to her desk. 

“The governor has no interest in playing Republican games to grab power.”

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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.