Michigan Legislature passing deal to end budget impasse

Posted at 9:25 PM, Dec 10, 2019

The Michigan Legislature was poised Tuesday to restore more than half of the state funding that was vetoed during a budget impasse after Republican leaders and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer agreed to a deal related to her ability to make spending moves.

The Senate unanimously voted to undo roughly $574 million of $947 million that Whitmer nixed more than two months ago, and the House planned to follow suit in the afternoon. The bill includes a new provision allowing lawmakers to undo department fund transfers Whitmer makes related to the current budget, though the language might be added to future budget bills, too.

The Senate also passed legislation that would require a governor to notify legislators in advance in the future of fund shifts made by the State Administrative Board and ease the legislative auditor general’s ability to obtain documents from the executive branch. GOP legislators had been unhappy that Whitmer unilaterally moved $625 million in conjunction with her vetoes.

“It created a serious problem of being out of balance between the executive office and the Legislature in terms of negotiating and establishing the budget,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Clarklake Republican. “These changes reinstate that balance, so there’s a real separation of powers and a real balance of exchange with regards to budgets.”

Another bill would require the Legislature to send the governor a budget by July 1, three months before the start of the fiscal year, though it would have no teeth. The constitutional deadline is Oct. 1.

Whitmer vetoed the funding — including $630 million, or 1.8%, of state spending ($947 million with federal funds) — at the budget deadline on Sept. 30 after being sent a budget without her input following a breakdown over short- and long-term road funding.

The legislation would spend $35 million so charter schools get the same funding increase that most traditional K-12 districts received, restore $7 million for 172 rural school districts and $38 million in need-based tuition assistance for students at in-state private colleges.

About $13 million would be revived to keep on the job 119 sheriff’s deputies who patrol roads. Nearly $15 million would reimburse jails for housing felons who otherwise may have been sent to state prisons, and roughly $25 million would be restored to rural hospitals — not including higher Medicaid reimbursement rates they also would receive.

“It’s really just a good compromise that allowed us to move forward,” said Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, a Flint Democrat. He said Democrats agreed to add the “unenforceable” provision related to fund shifts as a “gesture,” but future fights over fund-transferring powers can avoided as long as both sides negotiate the budget as part of talks — which broke down in September.