Editorial: Whitmer's budget strategy backfires; road fix remains urgent

The Detroit News

The budget standoff between Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican legislative leaders is finally over, following the governor’s failed negotiating strategy. In the end, GOP leaders got pretty much everything they wanted.

Whitmer vetoed nearly $1 billion from the initial budget, hoping to bring Republicans to the table to boost road funding, among other priorities for the governor. She also harnessed the State Administrative Board, a rarely used tool, to move more than $600 million within departments.

But those tactics backfired.

Now, much of the funding has been restored, and lawmakers have limited the governor’s ability to transfer funds — and made themselves much more integral in the process.

More:Policy changes clinch Michigan budget deal

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer discusses the latest budget stalemate with reporters on Sept. 12, 2019.

Lawmakers on Tuesday restored funding to 27 of 147 vetoed items and reversed funding transfers in six departments, totaling $573.5 million.

“It’s a good landing spot,” says Gideon D’Assandro, spokesman for House Speaker Lee Chatfield. “It was a silly process that never should have happened in the first place.”

Whitmer is trying to spin the outcome as bipartisan, and while she and fellow Democrats got funding for some of their priorities, the governor is not walking away a winner. There’s still no deal to come up with money for roads, and this remains an urgent need Whitmer must continue to negotiate with lawmakers.

“This negotiated supplemental appropriations bill is an important step forward for Michigan,” Whitmer said in a statement. “I support this bipartisan bill and will sign it, honor the terms, and not challenge any of its provisions.”

The supplemental bills protect some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens. One of the most egregious cuts Whitmer made was $35 million to charter schools. The $240 per-pupil veto targeted these alternative public schools, while traditional public schools serving low-income children received the funding boost.

More:Jacques: Poor kids as pawns? A bad look for Whitmer

“We’re gratified that the budget has been passed, and we’re thankful for all of the charter school parents, teachers, principals and students who spoke out on this,” says Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies. “Children should never be used as political pawns.”

Lawmakers also returned funding to the Autism Navigator program. Other funding will go toward the Michigan Tuition Grant for private college students, literacy programs, rural hospitals, rural policing, county veterans services and school security.

Whitmer did secure funding for new prison officers, tether replacements for parolees, implementation of the Medicaid expansion work requirement, the 2020 Census and the independent citizens redistricting commission.

Yet $400 million worth of Whitmer’s vetoes remain, including for the Pure Michigan tourism campaign. Lawmakers would be smart to place that sum into the state’s rainy day fund — or put it aside for roads. Regardless, Whitmer inadvertently made fiscal conservatives happy with trimming these programs.

As part of the budget legislation, the Senate included boilerplate language that would allow the Legislature to reverse any transfers made by the State Administrative Board this budget cycle. But by signing off on this, Whitmer is setting a precedent the Legislature is likely to include moving forward, and the governor would need to veto an entire budget to get rid of the measure.

Other aspects are permanent, such as the provision requiring the governor to alert the Legislature 30 days ahead of wanting to make department transfers.

Chatfield says the legislation will serve as an “impediment” to the governor’s authority to use budget transfers and “restores a balance of power” between the legislative and executive branches.

Now that state leaders have moved past this unnecessary crisis, they should turn to bigger picture items — like a comprehensive road funding plan.