Shirkey: Michigan needs to 'suffer through' budget woes rather than rely on feds

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey is saying the state should "learn to live within its means" and "suffer through" budget pinches in the coming years instead of demanding federal help to get through the cash shortfalls caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Clarklake Republican told WKHM in Jackson Wednesday that the state would likely get a better idea of where state revenue and finances stand during a Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference next week. The state's budget process would be "difficult" and there like would be "a lot of adjustments made that are going to affect people," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake reacts to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's second State of the State speech in this Jan. 30, 2020, file photo.

"Some states have crippled their economies like Michigan based on the actions taken and we just need to suffer through it for a cycle or two until the economy gets back on track," Shirkey said. "I don't think the answer should be to default to continuing to print money and bury our future generations under even more enormous debt."

Shirkey said he would support "very strategic, targeted" funding for safety equipment in schools.

On Friday, Shirkey responded to criticisms of his comments by saying "you always find what you're looking for."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer indicated in July that the cuts to the budget could be "severe" without federal aid. 

State budget officials estimate Michigan is facing a $3 billion shortfall in next year's budget, which begins Oct. 1, and already have worked to mitigate a $3 billion budget hole in the current budget. 

The comments are a stark contrast with the position of Whitmer, who wants the federal government to revive its extra $600 a week in unemployment aid as well as cash to cover state and local governments' budget holes caused by the pandemic.

Shirkey indicated the Legislature was working with the governor to develop back-to-school legislation that covered some of the items excluded from Whitmer's late June executive order. The Senate will hold a rare Saturday session on the education plan. 

Condemnation of the Senate majority leader's remarks by Democrats was swift after they were first reported Friday by Bridge Magazine

House Democratic Leader Christine Greig of Farmington Hills said it was "unfathomable" that any leader "would ever willingly accept the suffering of the people they represent." The Legislature must ask Congress to deliver extra funding, she said. 

"Sen. Shirkey’s flippant attitude towards the hardships that so many in our state are facing, through no fault of their own, is callous and mean-spirited," Greig said in a statement. 

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist also criticized Shirkey's remarks, calling them a "flippant disregard for human life and loss in Michigan."

"I have lost 23 people to COVID-19," Gilchrist said in a tweet. "We must put all hands on deck and all resources on the table to prevent people from getting sick, care for those who do, and stop anyone else from dying."