LANSING, Mich. — The Republican-led Legislature passed bills Wednesday that would restore more than half of the proposed spending vetoed by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer two months ago, a signal that a budget impasse that began over how to fix Michigan’s badly dilapidated roads and turned into a fight about gubernatorial powers may be finally be coming to an end.
Legislation that would undo about three-dozen of the unprecedented 147 line-item vetoes, or roughly $574 million of $947 million that was nixed, unanimously cleared the Senate. The House passed similar bills 104-1 and 103-2, setting the stage for final votes next week if an elusive agreement is struck related to the authority of the State Administrative Board.
A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said the votes were the “most optimistic sign” since October of progress among Shirkey, House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Whitmer, “but there’s still work to be done.” The trio had not resolved Republicans’ push to limit her ability to unilaterally transfers funds within a department via the board, which Whitmer did on Oct. 1.
She 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 governor is pleased that the House and Senate each took initial action on a supplemental budget that will restore critical funding for public health, public safety and public education,” spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said in a written statement. “This is an important, bipartisan step forward for our state to ensure we are providing essential services to Michigan families, and I am hopeful we can finalize it next week.”
A bill approved Wednesday 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.
Under another measure, 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.
Local governments in primarily rural areas would see the restoration of $27 million to offset lost taxes from government-owned land and reduced taxes from forests managed for timber production.
The legislation also would undo some of the fund transfers that Whitmer made to address what she has called a “mess” of a budget.
As expected, the spending bills do not address her largest single veto — a GOP-proposed $375 million shift in discretionary general funds to the $5 billion transportation budget. Whitmer, who campaigned on fixing the roads, has said the move would not solve Michigan’s $2.5 billion road-funding problem.
Republicans have said the funding would have boosted road repairs without Whitmer’s unrealistic and unpopular proposal to increase fuel taxes by 45 cents a gallon. Discussions about road funding have been on hold for months.
Other big items that Whitmer blocked and which are not included in the supplemental measures are funding for the Pure Michigan tourism and marketing program and the Going Pro campaign to help businesses recruit students into the trades and other high-demand fields.
“There’s still a significant portion of funding that needs to be figured out,” said Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. of East Lansing, the top Democrat on the Senate budget panel. “I think we all hoped that that would happen before Christmas. That being said, this is an immediate-needs supplemental that covers some immediate problems. I expect we’ll come back in January and solve the rest of them.”
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Stamas, a Midland Republican, said the restored funding would help treat Alzheimer’s disease, autism, opioid addiction and pay for other critical services.
“While this does not restore all of the governor’s vetoes and transfers, it is a good first step in the right direction,” he said. “It is my hope this is the last time any of these programs are caught in the political crossfire.”
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