Landmark same-sex marriage bill wins Senate passage

Whitmer: No Michigan government shutdown

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration has informed state employees that there will be no government shutdown next week and they should plan to report for work as usual.

But state officials indicated the Democratic governor intends to use the power of line-item vetoes and other maneuvers to blunt cuts and directives that Republican leaders approved in their budget bills.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

In a message sent by department directors Friday afternoon, the state's 48,000 employees were told the notice of temporary layoff issued last week was rescinded and any planning and preparation for the potential shutdown should stop.

“There will be no temporary layoffs,” the Friday email said. The shutdown, the email said, is not necessary now that Whitmer's office has received all 16 state budgets from the state Legislature.

"This has been an extremely challenging budget cycle," the email said. "The governor and the State Budget Office staff will be working around the clock this weekend to finish getting all the budgets ready."

The email promised employees that the governor would be "exercising the powers that she can" to deliver the best possible budgets. 

Whitmer's announcement is "good news for everyone," said Gideon D'Assandro, a spokesman for House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering. 

"Gov. Whitmer shutting down the government would have meant rejecting a strong bipartisan plan and cutting off access to critical services for millions of Michigan residents," he said. "We should all be glad she thought better of it and decided against that extreme step."

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey's office also was pleased. 

"The majority leader has repeatedly said there's no reason for a shutdown," said Amber McCann, a spokeswoman for Shirkey, R-Clarklake. "He's encouraged to see the governor will be signing the budgets."

The most recent state shutdowns occurred in 2007 and 2009, when Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Democratic-led House and Republican-controlled Senate didn't reach an initial consensus on addressing the state’s billion-dollar shortfalls during the recession. In each case, the government was closed only for a few hours.

While the shutdown was short in 2009, Granholm and Republican lawmakers still sparred throughout October before reaching an eventual budget settlement. The shutdown created enough of a bad image that Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder and the GOP-controlled Legislature frequently mentioned it during the eight years from 2011-18 that they approved budgets by June.

Sixteen department budget bills were delivered to Whitmer by Friday proposing $59.9 billion in total spending, slightly less than the $60.2 billion spending plan Whitmer introduced but 2.8% more than current year spending.

Key parts of the Legislature's budget plan include $15.2 billion for K-12 education, $5.3 billion for roads and $5.2 billion for general government.

Whitmer has the option of signing the budgets as they are, vetoing certain line items within the funding bills or declaring some items within the department bills “unenforceable.” The notice to state employees indicates she won't veto any of the 16 department budget bills altogether.  

Prior to the Friday email, departments were preparing for the closure of any non-essential services should their budgets fail to gain Whitmer's signature prior to 11:59 p.m. Sept. 30. Shuttered non-essential services would have included any active road work projects, Secretary of State branches, wholesale liquor sales, lottery games and hunting and fishing license application processing. 

But Whitmer appears ready to use line-item vetoes to reshape department budgets and strike down boilerplate language requirements. She called the budget bills "a mess" Tuesday after the House and Senate approved them.

Among the budget provisions to which Whitmer could take exception are reporting requirements for Democratic ally and Attorney General Dana Nessel; a reversal of the governor’s recommended transfer of the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission that would have taken the commission from under the purview of the GOP-led Legislature to Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson; and a prison budget requirement that would withhold state jail reimbursements in counties with sanctuary city policies.

Whitmer also has an obscure option that she is less likely to use, called an administrative board transfer, by which she could transfer funding to different priorities within a department's budget, said Kurt Weiss, spokesman for the state Department of Technology, Management and Budget. 

The technique was used by Republican former Gov. John Engler in the early 1990s and was promptly challenged in court by Democratic legislators. The Michigan Supreme Court eventually ruled it was a legal option, but not before Engler reached a budget deal with Democrats, Weiss said.

Differing priorities between the GOP-led Legislature and Democratic governor led to a bumpy budget process. 

Whitmer’s proposal of a 45-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase to fund road repairs in her February budget recommendations set off an immediate clash between the executive and legislative branches. It would mark the largest fuel tax increase in Michigan's history and a more than 170% increase from the current rate of 26.3 cents a gallon.

In June, Shirkey and Chatfield took a traditional two-month summer recess that they call an "in-district work period" with no budget recommendations in place but firm opposition to Whitmer’s plan. The House and Senate leaders said they continued to meet with Whitmer through the summer while the rest of the Legislature was out of session.

Whitmer has criticized the Legislature’s summer break and vowed to veto any plan that didn’t include a long-term road funding hike.

When legislators returned in August, discussions continued with Whitmer until they agreed Sept. 9 to set aside long-term road funding talks and get a budget done before Oct. 1.

Negotiations ended a few days later after Shirkey and Chatfield insisted on including a $400 million boost in one-time money for roads. Whitmer opposed the move because she said it didn't represent a long-term funding source for road and bridge repairs, raised costs and would rebuild 39 miles of freeway and fix about four bridges. 

Shirkey and Chatfield then promised to send budgets to the governor without prior consensus.

“We could not have predicted that our talks would break down over my governor wanting less money to fix the roads, but in the end, we could not accommodate her position," Shirkey said. 

Whitmer quickly countered that the only reason a budget wasn't already completed was because "Republicans wasted two months by going on vacation this summer instead of staying in Lansing to negotiate."

“The Republican budget cuts will restrict people’s access to health care, threaten our public safety and widen our skills gap," Whitmer said.