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.
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.
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.
“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.
The Mining Journal. December 10, 2019
Deer hunters are generous with harvested venison
Bravo to deer hunters in the state of Michigan for demonstrating a high degree of generosity in sharing their venison with people and families in need.
According to a story in The Detroit Free Press, this year has been record-breaking. Michigan hunters have donated more than 58,000 pounds of venison, which is enough meat to serve 232,000 meals. They’ve also donated $100,000. One year ago, 52,145 pounds of meat, which served 208,580 meals, and $99,629 were donated.
The organization serving as coordinator is the Michigan Sportsman Against Hunger, a nonprofit group that works with Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Food Bank Council of Michigan. The donated meat is given to local food banks and homeless shelters, the Free Press reported.
“Meat is something food banks, food pantries and shelters can never get enough of because it’s so costly,” Dean Hall, executive director of the group, said for the Free Press story. “Thanks to the generosity of hunters — whether they donate several pounds or a whole deer — we’re able to help fill thousands of hungry bellies every year.”
This is a wonderful community service program that simply doesn’t have a downside that we can conceive. Hungry Michigan residents are fed, tens of thousands of hunters enjoy the season and little if any taxpayer funds are used.
Traverse City Record-Eagle. December 11, 2019
Roundabout near fairgrounds should help
Going to the fair should be fun. But part of the journey to the Northwestern Michigan Fairgrounds involves a highway intersection that can be scarier than a carnival ride.
The intersection of M-37 and Blair Townhall Road has been dangerous for decades. It has been the scene of 30 wrecks in just the past 5 years, including eight that involved injuries. A 2015 incident left a Beulah teenager dead.
Visibility is good along that section of M-37. The problem seems to involve speed, perception and human nature.
Vehicles traveling north toward Traverse City move along at a good clip — drivers have just come down a long hill and see a stretch of straight road as far as the eye can see, so they keep their foot on the gas, anxious to reach town.
Vehicles heading south away from town also move at high speed — drivers have just escaped the busy Chum’s Corner intersection and feel like they’re finally free of traffic snarls. They see a straight shot up a long hill ahead, so they step on the gas, glad to finally be on the open highway.
A vehicle that slows, stops or turns in the center of those two opposing traffic flows is in a scary spot.
Anyone who has turned left off M-37 with a carload of children anxious to get to the fair remembers the uneasy feeling of being stopped on the highway, waiting for a break in oncoming traffic and watching the rear-view mirror as a speeding car gets closer to the rear bumper without any sign of slowing. It’s a feeling of exposure, a feeling of being trapped in plain sight between two streams of speeding vehicles — a sensation of waiting for disaster.
The DOT plans to build a roundabout in 2021 at the problematic intersection.
Roundabouts get mixed reviews from drivers. Some appreciate the fact that they eliminate stops. Some white-knuckle through them with nervous uncertainty. Some blast through roundabouts too fast. Some crawl through roundabouts too slow. Roundabouts aren’t perfect.
But a roundabout will provide a welcome improvement to the intersection of Town Hall Road and M-37. It should slow traffic, it should put drivers on alert that they need to be mindful at the critical intersection.
“The crashes that were occurring — there is a pattern there — will be mitigated with the roundabout,” said Rick Liptak, MDOT manager for the Traverse City region. “It will reduce the likelihood of the crashes that are happening there.”
The planned roundabout should help tone down the level of danger. It should reduce the number and severity of crashes. It should save lives.
Drivers who in the past felt as if they were on an adrenaline-filled Scrambler carnival ride may, in the future, instead feel like they’re on a carousel.
The crossroads of M-37 and Blair Townhall Road seems an appropriate place for a roundabout.