Opinion: GOP lawmakers negotiate in bad faith
As state lawmakers prepare to go on their first of two multi-week vacations between now and the end of the year, it’s worth considering the hundreds of vital state programs they claim to care about that remain unfunded through this budget process.
While lawmakers enjoy their so-called hunting break, we draw days closer to the Department of Corrections not being able to maintain monitoring tethers, underfunded schools being unable to hire literacy coaches for kids falling behind, and eager adults missing out on good-paying skilled trades jobs because they can’t get the training they need.
The Republican budget was a mess, stuffed with pork to attract the votes it needed to pass. It included hundreds of thousands of dollars in “traffic control improvements” for NASCAR races at Michigan International Speedway and appropriated $1.5 million out of the K-12 budget for a for-profit Florida company that hosts lawmakers at an annual swanky junket.
This was even more outrageous after last year’s last-second, lame-duck free-for-all, as Gov. Snyder signed a bloated $1.3 billion supplemental spending bill that included treats for lawmakers, like a multi-million dollar parking deck for senators; millions for a pro golf event in Detroit; and millions for former Republican Party Chair Bobby Schostak, for which no one even wanted to take credit.
You would have thought that draining $500 million of the state budget surplus heading into 2019 would have been enough for Republican lawmakers, but apparently it wasn’t.
Here's the situation that led Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to veto hundreds of millions in spending: The Republican legislature refused to negotiate with her, sending her a ridiculous partisan budget in a historically unprecedented move. That’s right — over all the years of divided government in Lansing, no one can remember the legislature simply refusing to work with the governor. Instead, some seven months after Whitmer’s initial budget presentation, they passed their own budget, taking an ax to many vital programs proposed by her while focusing on fattening up their own districts and favored programs.
Whitmer’s $900 million in vetoes weren’t just aimed at bringing legislators back to the table, though. The Republican's budget did not do enough to keep our state safe, to adequately fund kids’ classrooms, and to prepare adults for the skilled trades jobs we need to fill to keep our state competitive. Vetoing some programs and moving money around, as is the governor’s constitutional right and duty, was necessary to ensure our state does right by the people who pay taxes.
Over the last few weeks, Whitmer has maintained a desire to come to the table and negotiate so that all of these priorities can be addressed. Legislative leaders have given a dizzying array of responses, repeatedly saying “the budget is over,” yet blaming everyone but themselves for its shortcomings, and occasionally coming back to the table briefly before storming away again.
We in the labor movement know what good-faith negotiations look like, and the Republican legislature's actions look nothing like them.
So now we are left with lawmakers choosing to work just a few more hours before going on vacation for weeks, as our governor stands ready to get to work and negotiate solutions. Republicans should stop their partisan games and come back to the table to strike a deal that has the interests of all in mind.
Ron Bieber is president of Michigan AFL-CIO.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Gary Jones, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.