Finley: Whitmer got outplayed in budget battle
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer arrives at the end of her first budget chess match with very few moves left to avoid checkmate.
The governor got outmaneuvered by the legislative Republicans and let down by her own Democratic caucus.
Her options now: She can veto what she calls "a mess" of a budget drafted and approved by Republicans, which would trigger a state government shutdown late Monday that would belong wholly to her. She can use her line item veto to ink out specific expenditures and return to bargaining on those pieces, without a full shutdown.
Or she can sign the budget and hone her skills for a rematch next year.
When the governor proposed her spending plan last spring it reflected her priorities for Michigan. Specifically, she wanted massive new funding for roads and public schools, paid for by a $2.5 billion tax increase.
The budget bills passed this week on largely party line votes give her very little of what she wanted. She can blame herself. The governor was never in control of the process and didn't exhibit the horse-trading skills necessary to prevail in a divided government.
Her biggest mistake was giving up on the negotiations too soon. Three full weeks before the current budget expired and a shutdown would have begun, Whitmer agreed to take road funding off the table and deal with it later.
Had she hung tough and pushed Republicans to the deadline, she may not have got the full 45-cent fuel tax hike she sought, but she surely would have come away with more than the $400 million in one-time money from the General Fund that the Legislature included in the transportation budget.
Whitmer stuck to an all-or-nothing stance, didn't aggressively engage in the negotiations and never sold the public on her giant tax hike. Without a groundswell of voter support, her effort to bully Republicans into approving it lacked muscle.
The governor blames Republicans for the failure to raise substantial new road funds, but her plan did not have a champion among Democratic lawmakers, either. House Minority Leader Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, was cool to the proposal, pushing instead for a tax-the-rich scheme.
Greig also abandoned Whitmer in bypassing her and making an independent deal with House Republicans on an education budget that doesn't include the big infusion of cash for schools the governor sought.
Even while Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, and House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, were still expressing confidence a deal could be struck, Whitmer turned away from conciliation and started firing cheap shots.
She attacked Republicans for not staying in session, and for using a scheduled day off to attend the Republican state convention on Mackinac Island.
If her strategy was to shame the GOP into capitulation, she failed because she lacked the backing of voters for the fuel tax increase. All her taunting did was make her negotiating partners angry.
So now she has three days left to decide whether to accept the Republican spending plan or issue a veto.
Shirkey and Chatfield were smart enough to include just enough new money for roads and schools to make defending a shutdown-inducing veto challenging, particularly since Whitmer has already punted the fuel tax.
The governor lost this match because she never figured out how to control it.