Editorial: Whitmer's stand-off spin is ridiculous

The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's spin of her stand-off with the Republican-controlled Legislature is laughable. The governor in a letter this week accused GOP lawmakers of attempting to gut her power. The reality is the exact opposite.

The Legislature, after bipartisan negotiations and debate, sent the governor a budget as required by law before the Oct. 1 deadline. Whitmer had bailed on the spending talks a month earlier, choosing to snipe at Republicans from the sidelines rather than sit at the table with them.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer discusses the budget impasse on Aug. 28, 2019.

Michigan's Constitution gives the Legislature the authority to establish a spending plan, which requires negotiations with the governor, who can veto their priorities. The constitution did not intend to give the executive branch the power unilaterally to enact a budget and also administer it. 

Whitmer pounced on an obscure clause in the law to shift around $625 million contained in departmental budgets, with the approval of the state Administrative Board, made up largely of her appointees and other elected Democratic officials.

The clause had been used only once before, and then very narrowly, by former Gov. John Engler.

By transferring authority assigned to the Legislature to an unaccountable board largely under her own control, it was Whitmer who gutted the powers of the Legislature, not the other way around. The move violated the intent of the constitution to maintain clearly defined separations of powers between the two branches.

And so now Whitmer has a mess on her hands. She wants the Legislature to negotiate a new spending deal to allocate the $1 billion in additional funds she vetoed from the budget it passed.

Republicans would be stupid to do that without first fixing the law so that the governor can't again suspend their appropriations authority and spend the money as she pleases. They don't trust her, and they shouldn't.

Before the Legislature makes any agreement with the governor on spending -- or on raising additional funds for roads or schools -- it must be completely certain the money will be spent as it intended.

Whitmer thought it a clever move to use what amounts to a gimmick to bypass the hard work of reaching consensus with the Legislature. But, as such underhanded tricks have a habit of doing, it's coming back to haunt her. Her credibility with lawmakers has been deeply damaged.

That's her fault, and trying now to shift the blame to Republican legislative leaders is disingenuous. She should have learned by now that playing the blame game is not an effective way to govern.

What she needs is a restart with the Legislature. To get that, she needs to prove herself a trustworthy bargaining partner.