Whitmer signs bills adding $573.5M in spending to budget

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has signed supplemental spending bills adding $573.5 million in spending to the current fiscal year budget, leaving hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts in the Republican Legislature's $58.9 billion approved budget.  

The funding infusion comes a little more than two and a half months after the governor vetoed $947 million in the state budget and transferred $625 million within departments, prompting an outcry from beneficiaries of the vetoed programs and weeks of negotiations between the GOP-led Legislature and the Democratic governor. 

The additional spending lifts the state’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget to $59.5 billion from $58.9 billion, up nearly 1% from last year's $58.7 billion budget. The Republican-controlled Legislature approved a $59.9 billion budget before Whitmer made 147 line-item veto cuts.

The supplemental spending bills spend the “vast majority” of general fund dollars still available going into 2020, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said.

The Legislature reversed $82.3 million of the Oct. 1 transfers earlier this month after reaching a budget deal. 

The supplementals signed Friday would restore money to vetoed items, replace funding to items lost in the Oct. 1 budget transfers and add funding for items considered priorities of the governor.

The legislation restores $274.8 million of the vetoed funds, including $35 million in per pupil increases at charter schools, $7 million for isolated school districts, $13 million for secondary road patrols and $10 million for county veterans’ services, according to a Senate Fiscal analysis. 

The supplemental includes $252.7 million for some of the governor’s priorities that weren't part of the Legislature's budget, such as $10.5 million for new corrections officers, $4.5 million for tether replacements, $4.5 million for implementation of a stricter lead and copper water rule and $3.2 million to put in place the state’s no-fault auto reform. 

About $25.7 million of the $82.3 million in reversed transfers were reallocated to other items in the supplemental bill, according a Senate Fiscal Agency analysis. 

“This is a good deal for Michigan taxpayers that will provide essential funding for public health, public safety, and public education,” Whitmer said in a Friday statement. “Like any good bipartisan agreement, this includes funding priorities that both parties support. We all know that this process hasn’t been easy, but at the end of the day, we were able to work together in a bipartisan manner to reach an agreement that will benefit everyone in Michigan.”

Isolated school districts such as Whitefish Township Community Schools in the Upper Peninsula were excited by the restoration, but wary of what future budget battles might mean for the rural areas, which are represented mostly by Republican lawmakers. 

Whitefish Township Community Schools tapped into its rainy day fund during the nearly three months it waited for its restored $216,000 allocation, draining about 10% of its total fund balance, Superintendent Tom McKee said. 

The uncertainty regarding state funding damages the district's image as leaders work to promote the area, he said. 

"Now we have an uneasy feeling about the future every year, and that’s a shame," McKee said. "And for no other reason other than we’re geographically isolated.”

The signing was celebrated by Michigan Independent Colleges & Universities, whose president called the Michigan Tuition Grant restoration an "amazing holiday gift" for the 17,000 low-income students who rely on the scholarship. 

“Students at Michigan’s independent colleges and universities can now get back to focusing on their education instead of scrambling to pay their tuition," President Robert LeFevre said. 

The supplemental spending bills spend the “vast majority” of general fund dollars still available going into 2020, Whitmer said during a Wednesday interview with reporters. 

There are restricted dollars that could be available for a program like Pure Michigan if the Legislature wanted to consider the possibility, the governor added.

The supplemental spending bill itself included boilerplate language that would allow the Legislature to reverse any future transfers through the State Administrative Board in the budget cycle ending in late September 2020. The language was included as part of a budget deal struck earlier this month by Whitmer and Republican legislative leaders. 

The supplemental package signed by Whitmer includes laws requiring the Legislature to make a budget recommendation to the governor by July 1 and requiring the governor to provide the Legislature with 30 days' notice of planned budget transfers via the State Administrative Board.

Two other bills would allow the Michigan Office of Auditor General access to certain executive records during audits, legislation that arose from delays by state departments concerned about handing over documents they consider confidential.

Lawmakers have acknowledged that unresolved issues such as long-term road funding, the $37.5 million Pure Michigan tourism program and a 7% increase in Medicaid outpatient reimbursement rates for Michigan hospitals worth $95 million may be addressed in January when they return from the holiday break.

Whitmer addressed the Legislature’s approval of an extra $400 million in road and bridge repair aid by vetoing $375 million and getting the State Administrative Board, filled by Democratic allies, to transfer the remaining $25 million for mass transit.

The Democratic governor is insisting on at least an extra $1.9 billion a year for road aid, but Republican leaders and even some Democratic lawmakers rejected her proposal for a 45-cents-a-gallon gas tax increase. She plans on offering a revised road funding plan in the New Year.

"I’m hopeful that with the progress that we’ve made…, both in relationships and moving forward on some of the priorities ... that we can pick up in January and move forward with the balance of that," Senate Appropriations Chairman Jim Stamas, R-Midland, said about the remaining vetoed funding.