Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey at the Mackinac Policy Conference, May 30, 2019 | Andrew Roth
Thursday made for another day of budget shenanigans, with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer optimistically saying earlier that morning that she and GOP leaders were “very close to being done” with a deal on supplemental spending.
By around noon, however, the state Senate had adjourned with Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) maintaining that the only way forward was for Whitmer to agree to permanently limit her own executive power.
The House also declined to take action, with state Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) saying discussions on a deal will continue. To that end, the House is likely to come back Wednesday next week, even though Thursday was supposed to be its last day of action for the month.
The Legislature’s annual hunting and Thanksgiving break is almost upon us, with the Senate scheduled to be back Tuesday and Wednesday before breaking until December.
“We have had good, productive conversations with the governor this week that have laid the foundation for future discussions. The Senate Majority Leader, the governor and I all still have some concerns, and we are going to work through those over the next several days,” Chatfield said in a statement.
“Everyone wants to see funding restored for these important programs, and we all want to see a permanent resolution to this issue that maintains a constitutional balance of powers and provides real assurances that this situation won’t come around again. We will continue to work together until we reach that point.”
A deal could put an end to a long impasse that’s carried on after Whitmer signed a budget on Sept. 30, right before the start of the 2020 fiscal year. But in doing so, she also vetoed $1 billion in spending items — many that are GOP priorities — and then went on to make more than $600 million in fund transfers between departments.
Impasse earlier this week
In a letter Monday to state House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), the Whitmer administration said it was willing to insert boilerplate language into an FY 2020 supplemental spending bill that would limit state administrative board transfer powers, which Whitmer agreed to follow.
However, Republicans leaders responded they wanted, as a condition of any short-term agreement, for the governor to sign off on never using the State Administrative Board to transfer funds again. Lawmakers introduced legislation that would handcuff Whitmer, which passed out of the House Government Operations Committee on Wednesday.
The House went late Wednesday while negotiations continued, as programs that saw funding cuts after the budget dispute are starting to feel the effects of a tighter budget.
There were signs of a deal brewing later that night. After a 9 a.m. Thursday press conference on veterans’ issues, Whitmer said the end was near.
“We are very close to being done negotiating a supplemental and I believe that’s very positive,” she told reporters. “It means the Legislature could take action today and get something to my desk, and we can put a bow on the budget and be done with it.”
Whitmer added that if the “Legislature wants to get that done and to my desk, it can be just a matter of hours at this point in time.”
However, that dream was scuttled fast. A Thursday morning special meeting of the Administrative Board was canceled and the Senate adjourned by lunchtime.
Today’s battle lines
Some of the most high-profile vetoes were to autism programs, charter schools and tuition grants for private colleges.
As the Advance reported earlier this week, first-semester tuition grants for private colleges, for instance, were scheduled to go out this week. Funding for rural hospitals was scheduled for December, and a charter school foundation allowance increase would have been incorporated into the first state aid payment beginning in October, with 1/11th being paid out on the 20th of each month between October and August.
Absent a deal — which all the parties say they’re close to except for the change in statute — those cuts will likely continue to bite.
“Anyone who is lobbying on behalf of the Autism Alliance, or charter school increase or, you know, any of the other pieces that didn’t survive the initial rounds, they should be lobbying the legislature to pass a supplemental ーnot play games, just get it to my desk,” Whitmer said.
While Whitmer has sought to negotiate a compromise that would restore some or all of the funding as appropriated by the Legislature, Shirkey spokeswoman Amber McCann told reporters that a statutory change to executive power is the only way to restore trust.
“The governor … has told multiple groups, stood at podiums and said how important their work is and how much she is going to support them going forward, and none of those things were enough to keep the governor to her word,” McCann said. “So unless it has the weight of law, Gov. Whitmer has proven herself to be untrustworthy.”
For her part, Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown laid the blame for the lack of action solely on Shirkey and his caucus.
“Today was the best opportunity to fix the fundamental problems in the budget and protect public health and safety, which is why the governor and Speaker worked so hard to negotiate a bipartisan agreement on a supplemental and transfer powers,” Brown wrote in an email.
“With so many people’s lives impacted by this budget, it’s disappointing that the Senate Republicans are unwilling to compromise and chose to adjourn without finishing their work.”
For Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint), it’s time to stop squabbling over process and get a deal done.
“Permanent changes to the Ad Board are apparently more important that finding an equitable solution to the supplemental, so hopefully we will continue to negotiate,” Ananich said. “It’s agreed upon in the House and with the governor, I thought we had an agreement here but apparently not.”
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