LANSING – Republican legislative leaders are moving ahead with plans to finalize the details of all remaining budgets Thursday and then vote the following week to send all budget bills to Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer with the question of whether she will sign them, veto them or sign them with line-item vetoes very much unknown.
Tuesday brought only a further sense there will be no more talks between Whitmer, House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) prior to legislative approval of the budget bills. The major hold-up is that legislative Republicans, principally Shirkey, have called for adding $500 million General Fund for roads to the budget beyond the $468 million in income tax revenues already required to be rerouted from the General Fund to roads for the upcoming fiscal year.
The governor already is unhappy with the use of General Fund for roads, something that only began this decade, which has pulled it away from its traditional use to support state government services and higher education and led to the use of School Aid Fund money for higher education and community colleges instead of its long-time use in K-12 schools only. She has called for Chatfield and Shirkey to honor the agreement the three of them made to pause road funding talks until after the budget is complete.
Whitmer released an open letter in which she taunted Chatfield and Shirkey about the need for them to send the bills to her prior to this weekend’s Michigan Republican Party Mackinac Leadership Conference.
“I am writing to respectfully ask that prior to socializing with Mike Pence, Betsy DeVos, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Haley Barbour, you complete all of the necessary work to get your budgets passed and sent to me with time for my team and me to review them and get them signed by September 30th,” she wrote. “Over the summer, you took a two-month long vacation instead of coming to the table to negotiate a budget. Now, time is of the essence and it is your responsibility to pass all of your budgets and send them to me prior to your weekend getaway.”
Whitmer had a parting shot, “Please complete your task post haste and then enjoy Mackinac Island with your fellow partisans.”
Chatfield said Tuesday he reached out to Whitmer several times over the weekend about meeting and starting negotiations on the budget. He said while Republicans want $500 million in one-time spending to roads and Whitmer wants no one-time spending for roads, they should be able to meet in the middle.
“Quite frankly, I think our personal impasse that we are at on this budget right now is silly,” Chatfield told reporters. “And I think it is time for people in this town to step up, show some real leadership and negotiate in good faith. Yes, the majority leader put out a number of $500 million that we would like to see go to roads in one-time spending. The governor indicated she wanted no additional spending on road funding in this budget. That should not end our current conversations and negotiations. We should be able to meet somewhere in the middle and get this budget negotiation wrapped up.”
Whitmer Press Secretary Tiffany Brown said Chatfield’s description of his communications to the governor’s office were not accurate, though she would not say for the record what was inaccurate. Of the idea of meeting “somewhere in the middle” on $500 million General Fund for roads or $0, Brown said, “That’s not a plan.”
To Ms. Whitmer’s request that the budget pass before the weekend, Mr. Chatfield said Ms. Whitmer will have all the budget information she needs when the final conference reports are reported Thursday. He also said the House plans to pass final budget bills next week.
“If the governor wants to know that information before Thursday, I am willing to meet with her and negotiate with her in good faith and show her our notes on the budget,” he said.
Shirkey told reporters the status of the budget is in the same place as it was when the governor ended talks last week.
“Haven’t heard anything from the governor since she left the negotiations,” Shirkey said.
He said the currently scheduled conference committees set for Thursday will go forward as planned and then the budget bills be voted on before the full Senate next Tuesday.
The plan is to vote on each budget individually to provide transparency to the public, he said. Shirkey added that the budgets that have gone through conference committee are already public and the remaining ones will be when they are heard in conference committees.
Shirkey said he believes most residents “outside of these four blocks” in and around the Capitol would be able to look at the budgets and find them to be acceptable and meeting the state’s priorities.
The majority leader was asked about the letter Whitmer sent to leadership asking for budgets to be voted on prior to the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference this weekend on Mackinac Island to allow time for review of the budgets.
To that question Shirkey referred to the governor’s past complaints of the Legislature leaving town for the summer which she labeled as a summer vacation during budget season which Republican leaders have said is inaccurate since budget conversations among lawmakers were ongoing all summer.
“She came up with something new now?” Shirkey said of the governor’s line of attack.
This story was published by Gongwer News Service.