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Deal Quashed, Senate Republicans Say: ‘No’

November 12, 2019

Speculation that a deal between Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) could lead to passage of a roughly $1 billion supplemental budget were dashed at the 2-hour and 4-minute mark of Thursday’s Senate session when Senate Majority Floor Leader Peter MacGregor (R-Rockford) announced adjournment until Nov. 12. 

This came immediately after the four-bill Third Reading agenda was dispensed with, and only minutes after the Republicans returned from a caucus meeting. Later in the day, the House adjourned with plans to return to Lansing next Wednesday to deal with the supplemental issue as well as legislation pertaining to Switch. 

The Whitmer-Chatfield agreement was an attempted compromise by which Whitmer would agree to boilerplate language ostensibly preventing her from going to the Administrative Board and rearranging spending from the supplemental without her signing away some of her own gubernatorial budgetary powers. This route was apparently OK with House Republicans, but not OK with Senate Republicans.

“Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and the Senate Republican Caucus agree with all components of the deal that were put forward but for the fact that it didn’t include the weight of law,” Shirkey spokesperson Amber McCann explained. A reporter asked if that meant the Senate Republicans are continuing to pursue a statutory change regarding the budget process?

“The Majority Leader cannot rely upon the Governor making a promise,” McCann asserted. “There is a list of people who, relying on the Governor’s promise for this budget, that are now sitting empty-handed. So, in order for us to ensure that any future budget process can be relied upon, we have to have a change in statute.”

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) told reporters that the Governor, the House and Senate Democrats were all onboard with the deal but Sen. Shirkey and the Senate Republican Caucus didn’t agree.

“The supplemental had been negotiated, they’d been getting details, I thought we were going to have that resolved today but apparently that’s no longer the case,” Ananich said. “Permanent changes to the Ad Board are apparently more important than finding an equitable solution to the supplemental. So, hopefully we’ll continue to negotiate but… you know, it was agreed upon in the House and the Governor and we probably had agreement here but apparently that wasn’t the case.”

A reporter asked what is at stake regarding the supplemental.

“We had $1 billion that were either vetoed or a number of transfers that would have been put back,” the Flint Democrat said. “That’s for secondary road patrol, that’s money for schools. There are all these changes we could have agreed upon and reached a budget like we have for 100 years. But we’re not there; I don’t know if we’re going to get there, maybe the budget is done.”

Earlier Thursday morning, Whitmer seemed upbeat, telling reporters a deal on a supplemental budget that would restore some of 147 program cuts that fell prey to her veto pen last month seemed to be coming together.

“I believe we have found some common ground on what could be a comprehensive supplemental and address a lot of the things people care about,” Whitmer said. “We’re very close to being done negotiating a supplemental and I think that’s really positive. The Legislature could take action today and get something to my desk and we could put a ribbon on the budget and be done with it.”

Whitmer said options are available for removing the Administrative Board issue as an ongoing obstacle. In fact, she specified that there are “five different ways to deal with the Ad Board.” In addition, the Governor said she was prepared to call for a meeting this week to rearrange some of the programs she moved around if things progress. However, she had also repeatedly made it clear she’s not interested in signing legislation that would reduce her budgetary powers.

McCann said Shirkey had offered the Governor a number of options, including codifying in statute the mechanism Whitmer and Chatfield had agreed to doing through boilerplate.

“It just comes down to boilerplate versus statute,” McCann summed up. “Since the Governor has previously said boilerplate is not enforceable.”

A reporter asked McCann about Whitmer recommending that groups depending on dollars that would have come to them through the supplemental start lobbying legislators.

“The only person who has taken away their funding is the Governor,” McCann responded.

Meanwhile, Chatfield issued a positive-sounding statement about supplemental budget talks continuing.

“We have had good, productive conversations with the Governor this week that have laid the foundation for future discussions,” Chatfield is quoted saying in the press release. “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. 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.”

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