GOP-led Legislature axes Whitmer programs, reduces federal COVID funding in budgets

By: and - May 12, 2021 3:47 am

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

After nearly nine hours of session between both chambers of the GOP-led Michigan Legislature on Tuesday, lawmakers wrapped up the day having passed about half of the 17 Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 budget bills on their agendas.

In February, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced her state budget recommendation worth $67.1 billion for the next fiscal year starting Oct. 1, an increase from the state’s current $62.8 billion budget. 

The state House passed eight budget bills Tuesday, including budgets for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) and the Department of Education. 

The state Senate passed nine budget bills, with seven adopted along party lines. Those passed include appropriations for general government, MDARD, the Department of Education, Michigan Department of Corrections (DOC), Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO), Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), Department of Insurance and Financial Services (DIFS), higher education and community colleges.

The session day was marked by numerous amendments to bills sponsored by Democratic lawmakers that were then struck down by the GOP majority. Many of the failed amendments proposed by Democrats included attempts to restore funding in certain areas to Whitmer’s executive recommendations, such as her funding for college programs, childcare programs, better cybersecurity protection and a clean energy financing program.

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Of the budgets brought to the floor Tuesday, the DNR and EGLE budgets would be moved to a quarterly basis under the House GOP proposed plan. 

Democrats in the House have fought this change, arguing that it could be financially detrimental to these departments. House Appropriations Committee Chair Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) said quarterly budgets “ensures accountability and transparency.”

While state legislators hash out the details of their budget plans, there are still millions of unspent federal COVID-19 relief aid to be doled out, including $3.2 billion from relief funds signed by former President Donald Trump in December and $8.6 billion from a March bill approved by President Joe Biden.

House Bill 4419, introduced by Albert, appropriates $4.7 billion in federal COVID relief funding “to support the economic recovery of individuals, families, and businesses struggling with effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as to support state and local transportation programs impacted by the pandemic.”

Rep. Kelly Breen (D-Novi) offered an amendment to the bill to expand the use of relief funds, but it was not adopted. 

“This bill, as it stands, does help Michiganders, but we have a duty as legislators to do all the good that we can, by all the means that we can, in all the ways that we can for all the people that we can, and we are falling short,” Breen said. “We are not doing all we can when we leave millions upon millions of dollars … behind when that money can be used to keep them in their homes, to help pay for utilities, to help pay for child care, to help feed our seniors and protect our most vulnerable citizens.”

HB 4419 passed with a 60-47 vote.

Democrats in the Senate offered similar arguments regarding federal funds, and criticized Republicans for not negotiating with them.

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“There are still big priorities that are missing from our state, and still a lack of federal dollars that need to be spent in a relatively short amount of time to help us end this pandemic and actually get to our next budget cycle,” said state Sen. Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing).

“None of this process is over till we all get into a room, find a way to work together and come to an agreement,” Hertel continued. “So while I appreciate much of the work, there will be many no votes today on our side of the aisle. … I think the best products have come when we all sit down and work together. So, I will renew my calls for real negotiations in this process.”

Only two Senate budget bills — SB 93 for Higher Education and SB 94 for Community Colleges — received Democratic support during final passage. SB 93 passed 33-2, while SB 94 passed 32-3; all other budget bills received party line votes.

House Bill 4407, introduced by Rep. Brad Paquette (R-Niles), which includes appropriations for K-12 school aid, would increase the per-pupil funding by $50 to $100 per pupil if approved. 

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The House plan cuts Whitmer’s Michigan Reconnect program, a financial aid program that covers two years of community college tuition for Michigan residents 25 years or older.

An attempt by state Sen. Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo) to restore funding for the program, along with the Futures for Frontliners initiative, failed without Republican support.

The House Budget plan also includes: 

  • $29 million for MDARD
  • $114 million for DNR
  • $156 million for EGLE
  • $135 million for Department of Education

Another spot of contention between the two parties Tuesday involved Senate Republicans’ cuts to full-time employees (FTEs) in several departments, including DIFS.

Senate budget bills not voted on Tuesday include appropriations for the judiciary, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), K-12 school aid, Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA), Department of State Police (MSP), DNR, EGLE and Department of Transportation (MDOT).

Both chambers are expected to reconvene Wednesday to tackle more FY 2022 budget bills.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.

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