Michigan House, Senate poised to send vetoed bills back to Whitmer

Craig Mauger Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Republican-controlled Michigan House and Senate moved closer Wednesday to sending $652 million in vetoed spending initiatives back to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for reconsideration.

The Senate and House approved two bills that feature $405 million in financial assistance for businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, $87 million in federal relief money for private schools and $150 million for the state unemployment fund.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Stamas, R-Midland said the Senate is ready to work with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on addressing federal COVID-19 aid.

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Whitmer blocked the allocations on March 9 when she signed $2.5 billion in supplemental funding into law. State Budget Director Dave Massaron said the vetoed items weren't negotiated and represented "key points of difference" between the Democratic administration and the Legislature.

But Senate Appropriations Chairman Jim Stamas, R-Midland, said the governor’s actions met the definition of insanity because she continued to “go it alone” without meaningful input from the Legislature. He said the Senate stands ready to work with the governor in addressing the pandemic. 

“I’m ready to sit at a table, let’s go,” Stamas said, adding he’s “ready for the invitation.”

But Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-East Lansing, criticized the Senate majority, saying the Wednesday votes themselves met the definition of insanity because they were attempting to pass non-negotiated funding bills over and over again and expecting a different result.

Hertel urged the Senate to meet and negotiate the funding and apologized to businesses whose funding likely would be withheld longer. 

“You are being used as a human shield in the middle of a hostage negotiation,” he said.

Michigan residents, Hertel said, should “accept nothing less from us than to get in a room and solve these problems."

The spending bills in question allocate a total of $652 million in the current fiscal year. They passed the Senate in Wednesday party-line votes, 20-15, and the House in close to party-line votes of 59-49 and 64-45.

The Senate could formally send the bills to Whitmer's desk as soon as Thursday.

The bills include $87 million in federal funding designated for private schools, $10 million for parents of children enrolled in summer programs, $150 million in General Fund support for the state unemployment compensation fund and $405 million in tax and fee relief for businesses that faced hardships because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The majority of the business relief money, $300 million, would go to a property tax relief program to provide grants to those affected by state COVID-19 restrictions.