Gov to state workers: ‘I got your back’ on budget

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News

Lansing — As her administration prepares for a possible government shutdown, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday reached out to reassure state employees who could be temporarily laid off if an ongoing budget impasse is not resolved.

“You’re going to see a lot of things in the news regarding the state budget in the next couple weeks, and I want you to know that during these negotiations, I will always do what’s best for state employees,” Whitmer said in a video sent to all state workers.

"I will always do what’s best for state employees,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a video sent to all state workers.

Her direct message to “fellow” state employees comes as the Democratic governor and Republican legislative leaders spar over a state budget that constitutionally must be finalized by the time the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.

Negotiations broke down this week despite an agreement to postpone long-term road funding talks, renewing the threat of a partial government shutdown that could affect tens of thousands of state workers, halt state road construction projects and close Secretary of State branch offices across Michigan.

“I know that you all have families you need to take care of, and I want you to know that as we head further into negotiations, I have your back,” Whitmer told workers. “I’m going to work day and night to get a budget passed that will protect you.”

While all sides are still hoping for a budget deal, the Whitmer administration must prepare for the possibility of a partial shutdown that would affect services for residents and many of the more than 45,000 full-time state government employees.

A notification of potential temporary layoffs could be sent to state employees as soon as Monday, and the budget office this week informed department directors which functions would cease in the event of a shutdown, a development first reported by Gongwer News Service.  

All Secretary of State branches, state parks, forest campgrounds, state harbors and historical sites would close, along with Department of Transportation highway rest areas and welcome centers, according to a budget office memo.  

State lottery games would cease, the Liquor Control Commission would stop accepting retail orders for spirits and most licensing and permitting programs would halt. Training academies for state police officers would be suspended.

Revenue-sharing payments to local governments would also be delayed, along with student financial aid payments to universities and state aid payments to local school districts, according to the memo.

But several “critical” state government functions would continue. Prison and state police officers would remain on the job, along with child protective services, child welfare, psychiatric hospitals and veteran’s homes.

The state would continue making public assistance program payments, providing health services to Medicaid recipients, and making its own debt payments. International bridges would remain open at full or reduced capacities.

“The state budget office is working closely with all the departments to ensure that state government is prepared should we find ourselves without a budget at midnight on Sept. 30,” said spokesman Kurt Weiss.

“We’ve got a responsibility to Michigan residents and to our state employees to be prepared if the budget is not done, so we have to be ready for all contingencies.  We know the governor is doing everything she can to ensure a responsible budget by Sept. 30, but we need to plan for all possibilities.”

Republican-led conference committees on Thursday began advancing individual budget bills developed without input from Whitmer, who has veto power. The fiscal year 2020 spending plans include smaller funding increases than the governor had proposed for K-12 schools, community colleges and universities.

As The Detroit News previously reported, GOP leaders are pushing to pump $500 million in one-time funding into the roads. Whitmer wants to use that money for other budget priorities while they continue to negotiate a long-term road funding fix.

Whitmer in March proposed a 45-cent-per-gallon fuel tax hike that would have given Michigan the highest rate in the nation. Republicans rejected the plan but leaders say they remain committed to resuming road funding talks after the budget is finalized. 

The House and Senate have six scheduled session days left before the end of the fiscal year.