Whitmer signs remaining FY 2022 budget bills, vetoes ‘anti-choice’ line items

By: - September 29, 2021 3:06 pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer | Whitmer office photo

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed into law Wednesday the nearly $70 billion Fiscal Year 2022 budget, while axing Republicans’ cuts to abortion access and noting that budget language restricting COVID-19 mandates is unenforceable. 

Whitmer vetoed what she termed seven “anti-choice” line items from the budget, totaling $16 million. 

“These line items would create a gag rule preventing reproductive health service providers from even mentioning abortion and otherwise make it hard for women to get the health care they need,” Whitmer said. “Even as the U.S. Supreme Court allows Texas’ extreme anti-choice law to take effect, abortion is still safe and legal in Michigan. I will continue to stand in the way of any efforts to strip away fundamental rights from women or get in the way of doctors’ ability to do their jobs.”

The U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion earlier this month allowing a Texas abortion ban to go into effect, banning abortions as early as six weeks with no exceptions for incest or rape and allowing private individuals to sue anyone who they believe is providing abortions or assisting someone in accessing an abortion. Whitmer has called on the GOP-led Legislature to nix a 1931 state law banning abortion that would be in effect if the high court overturns Roe v. Wade.

Both chambers of the Legislature last week passed the state’s General Government budget, Senate Bill 82, and the Higher Education budget, House Bill 4400. Whitmer already signed the state’s $17 billion FY 2022 School Aid budget in July, which primarily funds K-12 schools.

The next fiscal year begins Friday. 

The seven line-item vetoes include:

  • $10 million for marketing programs to promote adoption of infants
  • $3 million to create a “maternal navigator pilot program” to provide referrals and services to pregnant women
  • $1.5 million for “pregnancy resource centers” that promote abortion alternatives
  • $1 million for pregnant and parenting services at colleges and universities
  • $700,000 for the alternative pregnancy and parenting program
  • $50,000 to “provide notice and information to health providers and the public concerning the prohibited use of state restricted or state general funds by Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), grantees, or subcontractors to fund any elective abortion”

Right to Life of Michigan President Barbara Listing said the organization is “disappointed that Governor Whitmer does not see the value of funding these life-affirming programs.”

“This is just one more in the long series of actions by Governor Whitmer that shows her extreme pro-abortion stance. We are not surprised by her actions to deprive women of pregnancy help. Governor Whitmer’s approach to dealing with women facing crisis pregnancies is abortion first, actual help second,” Listing said. 

However, a doctors group applauded Whitmer’s vetoes. 

“The Republican leaders in the Legislature who tried to insert cuts to family planning in the budget either don’t know or don’t care about the grave risks those could pose to the health and well-being of patients like the ones I care for every day,” said Dr. Farhan Bhatti, a family physician in Lansing and Michigan State Lead for the Committee to Protect Health Care. “It’s critical that health care professionals and patients alike speak up against these attacks, and I applaud our governor for doing so in this important time.”

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan Executive Director Nicole Wells Stallworth said Whitmer “put people before politics” by vetoing “the blatantly anti-abortion provisions.”

“Everyone deserves to make their own medical decisions free from interference from certain politicians. We are grateful to the governor for once again standing strong for Michiganders and keeping medical decisions between patients and their doctors,” Wells Stallworth said. 

Language restricting vaccine mandates is ‘unenforceable’

Republicans included in the budget boilerplate language that would require colleges to provide exemption and reporting requirements if a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy is implemented, cut funding for local health departments that issue mask or quarantine policies and prevent local or state governments from requiring vaccinations for their employees.

However, as expected, Whitmer said it is unconstitutional and will not be enforced. 

“These dangerous, anti-public health boilerplate provisions that seek to tie the hands of local health departments and municipalities will not be enforced as part of the final budget because they violated various aspects of the Michigan Constitution,” Whitmer spokesperson Bobby Leddy said. 

As of Monday, a total of 1,015,802 Michiganders have tested positive for COVID-19 and 20,898 have died from the virus. Additionally, since the start of the 2021-22 school year, a growing number of K-12 schools and college campuses are seeing cases, with 106 new outbreaks in the last week. 

Thomas Albert

House Appropriations Chair Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) disagreed with Whitmer about the constitutionality of the provisions, stating that “language preventing state and local governments from mandating vaccines as a condition for receiving government services or government employment is enforceable and remains in the budget.

“We also protect the rights of college students by requiring universities and community colleges that implement COVID vaccine mandates to have clear, obtainable exemptions. Universities do have constitutional autonomy, but that autonomy is not limitless.  These student protections do not violate the constitution in any way.  The Legislature has the power of the purse and, within constitutional bounds, has broad discretion to make its appropriations conditional,” Albert said. 

One provision that requires the DHHS to update the Legislature on any major policy changes 30 days before implementation will remain as part of the budget, Whitmer said. 

With the budget behind them, leaders shift focus on federal funds

After another year made difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic and divisive state and national politics, state leaders celebrate the “bipartisan spirit” of the FY 2022 budget. 

“Together we were able to develop a budget that is going to help families and businesses across our state. The pandemic has been hard for everyone, but now we have put so many resources to work that will make a difference. The state is well positioned for the future,” said outgoing State Budget Director David Massaron.

Key budget items touted by Whitmer:

  • $55 million for the Michigan Reconnect Program, $25 million for Futures for Frontliners, $40 million for Going Pro and $8 million for the statewide Pre-Apprenticeship Program. 
  • Expansion to childcare access and a one-time $1,000 bonus to childcare workers
  • $196 million to repair or replace nearly 100 bridges in serious and critical condition
  • A permanent $2.35 per hour raise for direct care workers who have been on the frontlines of the pandemic
  • $500 million into the state’s rainy day fund, bringing the total balance to nearly $1.4 billion

“In a time where political power is divided within state government, we came together and accomplished a lot of good with this budget,” Albert said, nodding to the rainy day fund allocation and investments in workforce development, child care, law enforcement and the environment.

However, he still slammed Whitmer for her vetoes and her decisions on enforceability of the boilerplate language, saying he is “saddened, but not surprised.”

With budget negotiations finalized and signed into law, state leaders are now looking to allocate the billions of unspent federal COVID-19 relief dollars from the American Rescue Plan. 

The FY 2022 budget only allocates about $800 million of the state’s $6.5 billion in federal funds, and Whitmer said it’s time now to focus on how to spend that money. 

“We don’t want to waste this opportunity,” Whitmer said. “We need to act now. This fall we really have to deploy those resources.”

Whitmer said she wants some of the federal funds to go toward expanding the state’s middle class and investing in affordable housing.

While the state’s budget may be set, Republicans and Democrats are gearing up for supplemental spending negotiations to either allocate those dollars before it’s too late or send it back to the federal government.

The budget is a testament to what we can do when we work together,” Whitmer said. “Now, we should continue in that spirit of collaboration to use the billions of federal dollars we have to help our families, communities and small businesses thrive.”

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered 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.