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Budget Talks Break Down As Michigan Senate Leader Says Whitmer Can’t Be Trusted

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Trust – or the lack of it – is holding up a deal to restore hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts to rural hospitals, law enforcement agencies, and not-for-profit organizations.  A deal seemed close Thursday, but the state Senate Republican leader says he’s lost faith that Governor Gretchen Whitmer would hold up her end of any bargain.  And so, he wants a new state law to seal the deal.  We have more from Rick Pluta.

Lawmakers still harbor hard feelings and mistrust over Governor Whitmer’s budget vetoes and her use of an administrative board to move money from one program to another.  The Legislature’s leadership has been meeting with the governor -- and Whitmer said they seemed close to a bargain.

“If the Legislature wants to get that done and get it to my desk, it can be just a matter of hours at this point. The only question I think is going to be some political games being played. I hope not.”

But it was not to be.  And Republicans say it’s the governor who’s playing political games.  They refused to adopt her call for new taxes to pay for road funding.  What followed were millions of dollars in line-item vetoes and budget shifts using the State Administrative Board.  It’s made up mostly of her appointed cabinet members and entirely made up of Democrats. 

Republican leaders agree she acted within her constitutional authority.  But they want some assurances there won’t be a repeat performance.  And Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey is particularly adamant.  Amber McCann is his press secretary.

“The majority leader cannot rely upon the governor making a promise.”

She says Shirkey wants a law that would strictly limit the governor’s ability to use the administrative board to reconfigure the budget.

“Unless it has the weight of law, the governor has proven herself to be untrustworthy.”

Governor Whitmer says no – that she won’t sign away any of the authority of her office.  And that’s where things stand now.  

As this all plays out, groups that serve the people affected by these budget actions are watching, waiting, and hoping something gets done.

“I think, honestly, our organization, the governor, the Legislature, all hope to have resolved, but, unfortunately, it’s gotten caught up in this process.”

Alex Rossman is with the Michigan League for Public Policy.  This group advocates for human services.

“The longer we wait, the less likely something’s going to happen, I think, and, more importantly, the people and the organizations and people that depend on these programs being funded are left in limbo and awaiting resolution.”

The stakes in this political standoff are real.  Money to help county sheriffs patrol rural roads is at risk; also help for pregnant women and children in areas where health care is hard to find.  There’s aid for schools in high-poverty areas, money to assist children with disabilities, and for literacy coaches.  The list goes on.  And the irony is no one involved in the negotiations wants these programs to be cut.

Rossman says soon, local governments and not-for-profit groups that rely on state funding will have to make difficult cuts to their services and then hope the governor and the Legislature can find ways to work better together in the future.

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— Rick Pluta is the Managing Editor and Reporter for the Michigan Public Radio network.  Contact WEMU News at734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Rick Pluta is the managing editor for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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