Finley: Whitmer snubs friends, pleases enemies

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Who are the happiest people in Lansing following Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's $1 billion in line item budget vetoes?

Conservative Republicans.

They got what they've always wanted — a deep spending cut that will result in a smaller state government.

Yes, some of the programs that fell to the governor's red pen are painful for GOP lawmakers, including a vindictive cut to the foundation grant for charter school children and the curious nixing of county sheriff road patrol funds that by law can only be spent for that purpose.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks with Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield before her State of the State speech in this file photo from Tuesday, February 12, 2019.

But for the most part, conservatives are happy with the results. There's now $1 billion in surplus revenue in state coffers that can't be spent without legislative approval.

Whitmer calculated her vetoes would put pressure on Republicans to rush back to the table to resume  negotiations on a comprehensive budget deal — talks she walked away from three weeks before the Oct. 1 deadline.

It may turn out to be one of the worst miscalculations a governor has ever made.

Republicans, who did what the state Constitution charges them to do in passing a balanced budget and sending it to the governor, are showing no eagerness to reengage.

“I’m afraid the budget is done now,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, told reporters last week. “So I think we should go back to the table and start talking about what’s next for Michigan.”

Shirkey added that he'd be happy to respond to any request by Whitmer to reinstate appropriations she vetoed.

Meanwhile, Whitmer risks ticking off some of her own supporters, and backtracking on campaign promises to "fix the damn roads," bolster public safety and improve schools.

The roads pledge in particular will ring hollow if 2019 passes and no new money is raised for road work. She struck from the budget $375 million in road money the Legislature had scraped from other programs.

She also cut a half-million dollars from senior citizen services, $2.5 million from online learning initiatives and $1 million from an autism hotline, a small cut that has generated a huge backlash from a constituency to whom Whitmer had promised to be an ally.

Rural hospitals lost $13.9 million, which will make those on-the-edge facilities even more vulnerable. And rural jobs and development programs took a $10 million hit. The popular Pure Michigan promotion, long a target of conservatives but loved by the tourism industry, lost $37.5 million.

The governor assumes voters will blame Republicans lawmakers for the loss of the services that are important to them. But it was her veto pen that killed them. 

Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, aren't the faces of Michigan's government. That's Whitmer.

And as it stands now, the governor looks both petty and ineffective. As long as Republicans are comfortable living with the damage her veto pen has done, Whitmer has little leverage to force them to parley.

Given the governor's penchant to default to throwing punches when she's frustrated, Michigan can expect more partisan trash talking than productive debate on what to do with the $1 billion the governor suddenly freed up. 

Twitter: @NolanFinleyDN