Editorial: Protect vulnerable in budget battle

The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer erred in putting funding for some of the state’s most at-risk populations on the line in her budget negotiations with the Legislature. Holding funding hostage for citizens who need it most isn’t helpful, and Republican lawmakers are right in trying to fix those wrongs. 

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

GOP leaders met with Whitmer Thursday to discuss restoring some of the more essential of the 147 items, totaling nearly $1 billion, she vetoed from the budget. Many of these cuts were also unpopular among Democratic lawmakers. A spokesman for House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, says the meeting was a “productive session and they plan to meet again next week,” but declined to give additional details. 

The Legislature this week introduced $260 million in supplemental spending bills. Whitmer should reinstate those dollars while she seeks some sort of compromise on other budget items with lawmakers. The governor has said her priorities are additional funding for corrections, health and human services, among others. 

She should have never used vulnerable adults and children as bargaining chips to achieve her goals. 

The 23 spending bills the GOP has introduced include restored funding for the following:

  • $1 million for the Autism Navigator program 
  • $35 million for $240-per-pupil increases for charter school students — the same as all other financially troubled public school districts will receive 
  • $15 million for summer school literacy programs targeted at third graders who don't score "proficient" on state reading tests. 
  • $15 million in PFAS and emerging contaminants grants for municipal airports 
  • Funding for rural hospitals, rural policing, county veterans services, opioid response grants and school security.

Whitmer has received some of the fiercest criticism — statewide and nationally — for stripping the $1 million from the autism program, run by the Autism Alliance of Michigan. Autism advocates say the funding is crucial and that the hotline is a lifeline for families and individuals who are struggling to find the services they need. 

If funding isn’t restored soon, these programs and schools will start feeling the pinch of the cuts. As it is, the uncertainty poses challenges, especially for school districts that are well underway in the new academic year. 

As Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said this week: "We don't want the governor's actions to have an unintended consequence and effect on the most vulnerable populations. We want to make sure we have all options at the ready should we decide to move forward with this funding restoration."

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey

That should include the possibility of veto overrides, which would require two-thirds support in each chamber. That means some Democrats would need to get on board, and right now legislative minority leaders are saying they aren’t interested in taking that tactic. 

But Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree that these cuts are harmful: The most in-need Michigan citizens should not be pawns in this budget battle.