Jacques: Get ready for heated budget fight
A year ago, Republican lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer seemed keen on working together, promoting a message of bipartisan collegiality.
Now they’ve kissed their chumminess goodbye.
Following a contentious budget battle last fall, GOP legislative leaders and Whitmer seem more guarded and less patient as negotiations over a new budget get underway. Whitmer especially has something to prove after her veto tactic to force more road funding backfired.
At a Detroit Economic Club lunch Friday, Whitmer didn’t hold back her criticism of GOP lawmakers, pinning blame on them for “not being serious” about a roads plan, in addition to a 2018 lame duck “spending spree.”
Whitmer released her 2020-21 fiscal year budget Thursday, laying out a range of new programs and expansions, impacting education, health care and the environment. Her $61.9 billion budget is up 4% from this year. It follows her announcement last month of a $3.5 billion infrastructure bonding plan, which she can pursue without lawmaker approval.
Republicans aren’t all that impressed. They see the budget proposal as a large spending increase, and aren’t sure where the additional money is coming from. And some are annoyed the governor didn’t consult with them ahead of time.
GOP leaders are planning to get moving on a budget of their own to present to Whitmer. Expect it to look quite different.
Sen. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, offered a blunt take on social media:
“Just listened to the governor’s new executive budget presentation. The short version is: A ton of new spending...blah blah blah...tax...spend...borrow....blah blah blah...more debt...blah blah blah...your kids can pay for it all.”
He’s not alone in feeling that way.
House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, is trying to stay optimistic. But his frustration is just under the surface.
“There are several areas we can work with the governor to improve our state,” Chatfield says. “I look forward to working with the legislative leaders to improve upon her proposal.”
Chatfield points to Whitmer’s focus on skilled trades training as an area where they can find agreement. Similarly, some of the governor’s proposals around mental health are “perfectly in tandem” with GOP-supported criminal justice reforms.
One of the areas they differ, however, is in her approach to school funding. Whitmer proposed a significant increase in K-12 spending, with a focus on special education and literacy. Chatfield is concerned that charter public schools won’t see some of the additional funds in Whitmer’s proposal, including participation in a new preschool program. And he thinks any new funding should directly follow the student.
Republicans didn’t appreciate how Whitmer vetoed $35 million in boosted aid for charter schools in last year’s budget — funding which all other public schools received. Even though the money eventually got restored, they’ll be paying close attention to that this time around.
And GOP leaders still want to work on new approaches to road funding, such as ensuring all taxes paid at the pump go toward roads. And House Appropriations Chairman Shane Hernandez, R-Port Huron, says the state must address rural and local road funding, which would not benefit from bonding. Those dollars would be directed to state highway projects.
The governor has requested lawmakers get her a “properly negotiated” budget by July 1. So the next few months will be busy.
“I think we all learned lessons in 2019 we can build on in 2020,” Chatfield says.