Advance Notice: Briefs

New House GOP COVID-19 relief plan again caps Whitmer’s powers

By: - April 21, 2021 6:42 am

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer | Whitmer office photo

Updated with comment from State Business Office, 11:23 a.m., 4/21/21

House Republicans who control the lower chamber unveiled on Tuesday a $13 billion plan to spend federal COVID-19 relief money, most of which is from a plan President Joe Biden signed last month.

It includes $3.2 billion from federal relief funds signed by former President Donald Trump in December, $8.6 billion from federal funds approved by Biden and $1.3 billion in state General Fund money. Most of the leftover cash is because Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed bills this winter that would have limited her pandemic response.

However, the new plan takes the same tack, with Republican lawmakers again going after Whitmer’s powers. They propose $1.2 billion for roads, along with money to investigate Whitmer’s nursing home policies and other health directives during COVID-19.

Republicans have opposed Whitmer’s health restrictions during the pandemic. There are almost 800,000 COVID cases and 17,000 deaths in Michigan.

It also includes $400 million to help Michiganders return to work, although it does not lay out a method of doing so, along with investments in various workplace initiatives.

Additionally, Republicans are again attempting to make education funds contingent on Whitmer relinquishing certain executive powers. The legislation notes that during the 2019 budget battle between the governor and GOP lawmakers, Whitmer used her powers to transfer about $600 million in funds between departments after Republicans presented her with a budget they had not negotiated with her. 

The new plan would restrict her ability to do so by only allowing Whitmer to transfer a maximum of $200,000 in the aggregate, in exchange for $6 billion in school funding, state employee hazard pay and road debt.

“First and foremost, this plan continues our commitment to Michigan families decimated by COVID-19 and the governor’s pandemic orders,” said House Appropriations Chair Thomas Albert (R-Lowell). “… At the same time, we’ve got to plan ahead. We have a unique opportunity to invest in roads, broadband and other infrastructure Michigan needs to emerge from the pandemic with a stronger foundation.

“And we have a responsibility to prepare for the day our state budget is no longer artificially propped up by billions of dollars in federal aid. Our national and state economic policies over the past year have been dangerously unsustainable, and we must take steps now to put our state in a better financial position moving forward,” Albert said.

Kurt Weiss of the State Budget Office said the spending proposal “marks the first step in the process in getting to work on making sure we maximize all of our federal resources, but we also need to be aware that the United States Treasury will be providing further guidance that we will need to follow.

“Our primary goal remains the same – making sure that the federal funding available to Michigan is used in a way that best helps our state emerge from the pandemic in a better and stronger position – so that our small businesses and our residents can thrive when this pandemic is over. In a day that has seen three-month budgeting proposals for the fiscal year 2022 budget and now a house plan to spend available federal resources before knowing all of the federal guidelines, it magnifies the need for a budget process where we are working together to negotiate a budget that works for all of Michigan,” Weiss said.*

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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).