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Legislators Deal Without Gov To Pass 15 Budgets

October 1, 2019

The House and Senate passed 15 Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 department budgets Sept. 24 with no direct input from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is expected to line-item veto large portions of the spending documents by Sept. 30, the last day of FY ’19.

The Legislature’s budget doesn’t include Whitmer’s proposed 45-cent-gas tax increase or any other general tax boost outside of extending the sunset on roughly 20 fees.

The Republican majority budgets put more than $850 million that would have otherwise gone to the General Fund money into a record $5.4 billion transportation budget. The Michigan State Police will be able to train 86 new troopers. Another $30 million is going to fight opioid abuse and cover substance abuse treatment.

Legislative Democrats voted against the big-dollar budgets — Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), General Government and Department of Corrections — but they negotiated enough wins out of the FY ’20 budget to not gum up the process.

The $120 million in drinking water improvements Whitmer called for in her budget proposal made it through. Medical neonatal rates were increased from 80% reimbursed to 95%, a $1.7 million boost. Private duty nursing rates and pediatric psychiatric rates were also increased $3.9 million and $10.7 million, respectively.

The House and Senate essentially cleared their calendars Wednesday and Thursday so the House Clerk’s office and the Secretary of the Senate could adequately flyspeck the bills and get them to the Governor’s office by Wednesday night or Friday, by the latest.

The Governor called the budgets “a mess,” the product of “shell games” designed to give Republicans a “phony talking point that they’re spending ‘record money’ on roads.”

“And now, with less than a week until the budget is due, they’re planning to leave town for break again without having transmitted a single budget to my office,” Whitmer said. “The truth is their transportation budget would only rebuild about 39 miles on the freeway and fix about four bridges in a state with over 1,000 bridges in poor condition.

Whitmer and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) haven’t talked in more than two weeks, when budget negotiations broke down over the amount of General Fund money Republicans wanted to use for road funding.

Working with Senate Democrats, on the other hand, was a different experience. Democrats had enough votes to withhold the necessary votes to give budgets immediate effect (IE), but the two sides worked out enough compromises where this didn’t become an issue.

“We have great partners and colleagues in the Senate on the other side of the aisle,” Shirkey said. “They’ve been terrific partners from day one. We’ve had the opportunity to divulge our differences. We’ve spent enough time to relationship-build and have a plan for IE and you saw the evidence of that today.”

Other Democratic wins included:

– $30 million in the School Aid Budget for special education

– $22.7 million for a rail grade separation project Downriver

– $4 million for a behavioral health pilot program with McLaren Greater Lansing

– A $1 million grant to the city of Lansing for state Capitol security

– $1.25 million for a 911 dispatch center in Dearborn

– $1.5 million for the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, the Charles Wright Museum in Detroit and the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills

– A $50,000 study has been attached to a provision that bans the Department of Transportation from awarding contracts to contractors who require collective bargaining when subcontracting. This gives the Governor license to line-item veto the provision out of the budget.

House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) also heralded the work of legislators on both sides of the aisle in piecing together the budget.

“Even though the Governor chose not to be a part of the process and hasn’t put in any work on the budget in weeks, representatives and senators from both parties banded together to do the right thing for the people we represent and get this done,” he said.

But without a revenue increase, some legislative Democrats feared the roughly $60 billion budget didn’t do enough. Universities and local governments weren’t funded nearly enough to keep pace with years of state under-investment.

Prior to the R’s passing all the conference reports, Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) was already urging the Governor to veto the GOP’s $800 million plus for the roads, repeating that the one-time fix would not work. He used a personal example to underscore his argument.

“In December I decided I had to start losing some weight. I started doing Keto and I lost 45 pounds, a personal record. But I’m still a fat ass right? That didn’t solve the problem,” said Ananich, emphasizing the point that one-time fixes don’t work on the roads either.

As for the Governor using her veto pen, he said, “Obviously it’s a question you have to ask the Governor, but for the most part this is going to be solution-based. The Governor has some tools and we’ll see what she does with them.”

Asked about vetoes again he added, “There are some pretty glaring ones in there always. Yes. (and) there’s a number of areas that come up short.”

Coming at it from the GOP side of things, Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chair Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo), reflected on the potential red ink from the Governor by saying, “She can do what she wants. I think we’re putting out a sound and balanced budget.”

Education lobbyist Peter Spadafore is urging the Governor to wield her veto pen over what he terms, $45-$50 million in “corporate handouts” from the Republicans that should be “re-directed to the classroom now.”

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