Whitmer uses board to shift $625M, details her vetoes

Posted at 11:26 AM, Oct 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-01 15:00:39-04

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer further shaped the new state budget Tuesday, taking a rare step to shift $625 million within departments while outlining more of her major vetoes, including funding for the Pure Michigan tourism campaign and a $240 per-student increase in aid to hundreds of charter schools.

The Democrat signed the $59 billion spending plan Monday while issuing 147 line-item vetoes totaling $947 million to the Republican-passed proposal. She declared 72 provisions unenforceable.

“I do not relish using these powers. But they were absolutely necessary because the budgets they sent were fatally flawed,” Whitmer said after using a state board to transfer funds between individual agencies. The maneuver was last used in 1991.

The nearly $1 billion in stripped funding could ultimately still be included in the budget pending negotiations that Whitmer wants to restart on Thursday.

“Everyone in the Legislature should know that a line-item veto is not the death knell for any individual item, if people get back to the table and negotiate,” she said.

Talks between the first-year governor and GOP legislative leaders broke down weeks ago because of a dispute over short-term spending on roads after the two sides had agreed to table discussions on a long-term plan. Her largest single veto was a $375 million shift in discretionary general funds to the $5 billion transportation budget.

Whitmer said it would not solve Michigan’s road-funding problem, as it amounted to “less than 20% of the cost for one year, when a 10-year plan to actually fix this is $2.5 billion of ongoing funding.”

Republicans said the funding would have boosted road repairs without her proposed 45-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax hike or cuts to essential services.

“The governor is trying to go around the legislators elected to be the voice of the people in state government and change how we invest taxpayer dollars,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Shane Hernandez, a Port Huron Republican.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Clarklake Republican, said Tuesday that he was in “no rush” to address Whitmer’s vetoes.

“There is no amount of red pen usage that will result in enough green buttons pushed in the Senate to get my Governor what she wants,” he said in a written statement.

Whitmer’s vetoes included $128 million from the proposed $15.2 billion school aid budget, including $35 million that would have given 294 charter schools the same $240 per-pupil increase in base funding that many traditional K-12 districts will receive. Charter schools traditionally are more strongly backed by Republicans.

“Somebody should fix this,” said Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, saying he was “shocked” and disappointed. “This isn’t about Democrats, Republicans in our minds. If budgets reflect the values that we have as a state, I can tell you parents and voters value kids and they don’t value politicians using kids as leverage for politics.”

Whitmer also nixed $16 million from career and technical education equipment, a $10 million competitive grant program to better secure some schools and $7 million in extra payments to small, geographically isolated districts.

Whitmer said she “loves” Pure Michigan, the state’s popular tourism and marketing campaign, but she had to respond after GOP legislators backed “their phony road plan. … There are lot of tough decisions. A lot of people are going to be unhappy. That’s precisely why the Legislature needs to get back to the table.”

Another significant veto was $14.8 million the state spends to reimburse county jails to house state prisoners. The Whitmer administration said it did so because Republicans inserted language to disqualify counties that do not cooperate with federal immigration officials.

Of the $625 million in transfers approved by the State Administrative Board, about half — $315 million — was used to fully fund the Department of Education. The Legislature had set aside three-quarters of its funding in reserve, subject to being appropriated only if the department met certain conditions such as publishing A-through-F letter grades for public schools as required under a 2018 law.

Whitmer said the restriction was an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers.