Whitmer signs $54.8B budget with big Detroit spends; vetoes millions for pregnancy centers, research

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Detroit — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday signed a $54.8 billion state operating budget into law that's part of a record-setting $76 billion overall budget when combined with the state's $22 billion education spending plan she signed last week

The budget ballooned this year as the state burned off its dwindling one-time federal COVID-19 relief funds and received higher than expected tax revenue from the income and sales taxes.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (center) signs a new state budget at The Corner Ballpark with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan (from left) Fredrick Hunter, acting CEO PAL, Michigan State Budget Director Chris Harkins, Maria Franklin, PAL, and Warren Evans, Wayne County Executive on Wednesday, July 20, 2022.

Even after Whitmer's signing Wednesday, the state has about $7 billion remaining on the books that has been the subject of long and tortured negotiations over potential tax relief. 

Roughly $27 million funds the GOP-controlled Legislature appropriated for pregnancy centers, adoption education and stem cell research won't get spent after being vetoed by Whitmer because of concerns over anti-abortion conditions tied to some of the funding.

The budget invests broadly in K-12, secondary and skills-based education; mental health resources in schools and improvements in in-patient psychiatric facilities; road and water resource infrastructure; and cash infusions to bail out struggling government employee pensions systems across the state.

"This budget has something remarkable for every community across the state of Michigan," Whitmer said at a bill-signing ceremony in Detroit. "You will see the benefit of the investment that we are making in our people, in our infrastructure, in our places and in our potential, our collective potential. Because when one part of our state succeeds every part of our state succeeds."

The budget also includes more than $300 million in earmarked spending on Detroit-centered projects, funding that was a focus of Whitmer and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan at the bill's signing event at The Corner Ballpark (PAL), the former home of Tiger Stadium in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood.

The ballpark is part of Detroit's PAL (Police Athletic Program), which is focused on youth sports opportunities and received about $7.5 million in funding in the 2023 fiscal year budget for its Detroit program and potential expansion into Grand Rapids and Flint.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaks about a new state budget at The Corner Ballpark on Wednesday, July 20, 2022.

Duggan couldn't say whether it was a record funding year for Detroit, noting the city used to receive significant funding when state revenue sharing with local communities was more robust. But when tracking totals in recent years, the new budget easily represents the largest, he said.

The mayor argued that the investments in Michigan's largest city would lift other parts of the state as well. 

"Eight years ago, Detroit had the highest poverty rate, unemployment rate and murder rate in the country," Duggan said. "Now, the city of Detroit is driving economic progress in the state."

Detroit investments

Duggan said he spoke with "lots of legislators" in a bid to show an investment in Detroit would have long-term dividends. The effort appeared to pay off, with hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarked cash going to the city.

"A lot of this appropriation is America Rescue Plan money; it's got to be spent by the end of 2024," Duggan said. "We're not spending a dollar of American Rescue Plan money if its not going to do long-term good."

Other Detroit-specific projects benefiting from the funding include about $40 million for the 27.5-mile Joe Louis Greenway, $100 million for the Detroit Center for Innovation, $100 million for the Wayne State Medical School Cancer Institute, $1 million for the Wayne Port Authority and $5 million for the Global Talent Initiative.

Another $2.5 million will go to Detroit's Sickle Cell Center, $1 million to the Ruth Ellis Center, $590,000 will go to the Alternative for Girls homeless shelter and support program, $500,000 for Detroit Downtown Boxing and $12 million for Eastern Market.

Lawmakers also appropriated $6 million toward operations of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and $4 million to the Detroit Historical Society Museum in Midtown Detroit's cultural district.

A Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network psychiatric campus will receive about $45 million in funding and psychiatric services at the Detroit Medical Center's Children's Hospital will receive about $5 million.

While investments in Detroit were significant, Sen. Jim Stamas, the Midland Republican who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, argued the budget also benefited other parts of the state, but in less overt or targeted appropriations. He noted, as an example, the large-scale investments the budget includes for water infrastructure grants for smaller communities.

"The greater sum was actually put into these buckets to help all across Michigan," Stamas said. "...I think we're seeing that opportunity equal across the state."

$27M vetoed

Between the education and general fund budgets, Whitmer vetoed more than $25 million aimed to boost pregnancy centers, put limits on aborted fetal tissue research and give tax credits to adoptive parents. 

Whitmer's general fund budget vetoes included the elimination of about $10 million in marketing programs promoting adoption as an alternative to abortion, $4 million in grants for housing pregnant women without a safe home, $3 million for a maternal navigator pilot to be distributed to nonprofits to make referrals for prenatal or postnatal care and in cases of pregnancies involving rape, abuse or a substance use disorder.

Whitmer also vetoed $2 million lawmakers appropriated for an adoptive parent tax credit, $1.5 million for pregnancy resource centers that promote alternatives to abortion, $700,000 for women's health centers that focus on grief counseling, child birth and alternatives to abortion and $50,000 to inform the public that the state will not use general fund dollars for services or contracts providing elective abortions. 

Another $100,000 was vetoed that would have created a legal fund in the Michigan Department of Corrections for it to respond to suits filed over a ban on gender reassignment surgery funding for inmates. 

The education budget included vetoes of about $1 million for college pregnancy and parenting services and $5 million for "ethical stem cell/fetal tissue research" that would prohibit universities from using the funds to conduct "any research on aborted fetal tissue," according to the bill. 

While announcing the vetoes earlier this week, Whitmer called the centers providing pregnancy services "fake" because she said they "lie to women about medical facts." 

"Gov. Whitmer supports legislation that provides every possible resource to women who are pregnant, seeking to start a family, or those who aren’t ready yet, but she cannot support aspects of a bill that sends millions in taxpayer dollars to fake health centers that intentionally withhold information from women about their health, bodies, and full reproductive freedom," her office said.

Rep. Thomas Albert, the Lowell Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, criticized the governor's vetoes as supporting only one "choice" for women with problem pregnancies.

"Let’s be clear – this funding is not about access to abortion," Albert said. "It’s about helping women in need and actually sustaining life.”

The Michigan Catholic Conference, the lobbying arm of the Catholic church in Lansing, also criticized the vetoes, calling them "extreme" and a source of alienation for the "tens of thousands" of women and families using the pregnancy centers. 

"By eliminating these helping hands for women who want to have their babies, the governor is, in effect, taking away their ‘choice’ — the choice for childbirth," said Rebecca Mastee, policy advocate for the Michigan Catholic Conference.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com