Whitmer wants budget bills before week's end, but GOP leaders decline

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has asked Republican legislative leaders to send their budget bills this week before heading north for "socializing" at a Mackinac Island party leadership conference, but the GOP leaders said she must wait a few days more. 

If they receive completed budgets by the end of the week, Whitmer and her team will have time "to review them and get them signed by September 30th," the governor wrote in a Tuesday letter to Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield.

"Please complete your task post haste, and then enjoy Mackinac Island with your fellow partisans," she wrote, noting state preparations for a partial government shutdown should leaders miss the Oct. 1 deadline.

Shirkey, R-Clarklake, and Chatfield, R-Levering, told reporters Tuesday the House and Senate majorities plans to finish with conference committees this week and pass department budget bills out of the chambers next Tuesday. They said there was no reason to finish the full budget before the weekend since the conference committee versions will provide the information the governor is seeking.

"The details of the budgets we passed out of conference committees last week are public and available," Shirkey said. "The details of the ones we send out of conference this week are going to be public and available."

Chatfield said he reached out to the governor several times over the weekend to express his "willingness to get back to the negotiating table," but she has yet to agree to meet. Shirkey instead is waiting for the governor to restart  communications with GOP leaders, his spokeswoman Amber McCann said Tuesday.

"Quite frankly, I think our personal impasse that we are at on this budget right now is silly," Chatfield told reporters Tuesday. "And I think it's time for people in this town to step up, show some real leadership and negotiate in good faith."

Whitmer has criticized the GOP for taking a "two-month long vacation" over the summer instead of working on the budget. Lawmakers argue that they work in their districts during their time away from the Capitol.

Tuesday's letter appeared to double down on the theme by harping on the GOP's political “getaway” on Mackinac Island that starts Friday. Vice President Mike Pence and former White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders are among the keynote speakers at the biennial weekend GOP leadership conference.

"The people of Michigan deserve leaders who will work day and night to protect them," Whitmer wrote

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer discusses the latest budget stalemate with reporters on Sept. 12, 2019.

The governor didn't seem to be promising that she would definitely sign the measures.

Whitmer has told state workers she would protect them, but has indicated that she doesn't support GOP leaders' plans to include $500 million extra in one-time road funding in the budget bills. The governor has postponed plans on negotiating a long-term road funding solution to get the budget finished.

While Chatfield said the House should be able to meet "somewhere in the middle" on the $500 million in one-time funding, Shirkey said the Senate is likely to include the full $500 million in the department budgets it approves.

The budgets are likely to be presented to the governor individually instead of rolled into two omnibus budgets, Shirkey said. The individual budgets will allow Michigan residents to see the "reasonable" and "balanced" budgets proposed for each department, he said. 

"It's important for us to reveal that and not just put it up in one vote," Shirkey said. 

Republicans last week began advancing parts of their proposed budget without a deal with Whitmer. The GOP-led committees approved smaller funding increases for K-12 education and higher education than the governor proposed.

Whitmer said budgets should ideally be presented to her two weeks before the end of the fiscal year, which is Sept. 30, and she hopes to avoid a government shutdown.

On Monday, department heads sent out letters notifying 48,000 state employees that they could be laid off temporarily Oct. 1 if a budget is not reached by then.