Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas
Two Democratic Michigan mayors on Thursday decried the GOP-led Legislature for taking its time on budget negotiations with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, calling for a swift agreement so local governments can support essential programs and make better informed funding decisions.
It has now been over a month since Whitmer and GOP legislative leaders agreed to negotiate next year’s budget and COVID-19 relief spending — but with no apparent movement since and just one week until the July 1 budget deadline, some municipal leaders are becoming frustrated with the wait.
“We’re trying to fill in the [funding] gaps where the state and the federal government can’t. So if we don’t have that knowledge to us in a timely fashion, then we’re not going to be able to make those educated decisions,” East Lansing Mayor Aaron Stephens said Thursday during a press conference hosted by the Michigan Democratic Party (MDP).
Jackson Mayor Derek Dobies said while federal COVID-19 funds from the American Rescue Plan will help his city and others, municipalities are still facing down the barrel of decades-long cuts and hardships.
“I think the governor has done her part in proposing a budget, and also in working in a bipartisan fashion with one chamber of the House. I’m optimistic that the Senate can get its head out of its ass to actually do the work on the other end to deliver a budget that is good for businesses, good for talent retention and good for working families that need it most during the pandemic,” Dobies said.
Spokespersons for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and Jason Wentworth (R-Clare) did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Both mayors pointed to talent retention as a top priority for their cities and the state, which they said would be supported by more funding toward education, childcare and job training.
Stephens and Dobies also said that while they are excited about Whitmer’s “robust” budget plan, GOP legislators now need to step up to the plate.
“To not see a budget out of the Michigan Legislature at this point, I think they’re just playing politics,” Stephens said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic — and following a long Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 budget standoff between Republican lawmakers and the Democratic governor — Whitmer signed a law establishing July 1 as the new deadline for the Legislature to submit its budget plan to her.
The COVID-19 pandemic complicated that timeline last year, and the FY 2021 budget was eventually signed in September. The July 1 deadline has not been suspended for this year.
State Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland) introduced a bill earlier this month to suspend that deadline until 2022, but no action has been taken on the legislation since it was passed by the Senate and referred to committee on June 17. The Senate adjourned Thursday until Wednesday — one day before the budget deadline.
Last month, the GOP-led Michigan Legislature began passing budget bills for FY 2022, many of which cut funding to the executive recommendations proposed by Whitmer.
Whitmer and GOP leaders announced on May 21 that they have agreed to work together on the budget, but no negotiated budget plan has been reached yet and there is just one week until July 1.
“Budgets are reflections of our values, and I think you can look at the governor’s budget and see the care that’s been taken to invest back in our communities, invest back in the things that we need to do to reopen businesses and to care for some of the most vulnerable citizens that we have, particularly during a pandemic,” Dobies said.
“… Pass a budget, so that we can use some of those state resources and put them to work in cities like Jackson.”
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