Whitmer on vetoing GOP budget bills: ‘We’ll see’
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was noncommittal about signing final spending bills that began advancing in the Republican-led Legislature on Thursday, a day after talks broke down between her and GOP leaders.
“We’ll see,” she said, hours before House-Senate conference committees approved six budget measures, including a $15.2 billion school aid budget. More of the Republican-controlled panels are scheduled to vote next week despite there being no overall deal with the first-year governor.
A budget must be enacted before Oct. 1 to avoid a partial government shutdown. If Whitmer signs whatever lawmakers send to her desk, she could still use her line-item veto power to nix specific spending and force GOP legislators back to the table.
Negotiations ended Wednesday after the sides disagreed over how much to direct to roads and bridges in the coming fiscal year. They had previously agreed to table talks on a long-term road-funding plan — Whitmer’s proposed 45-cents-a-gallon fuel tax hike was rejected outright — until after finalizing the budget.
GOP Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said Republicans proposed moving an additional $500 million in general funds to the transportation budget, which is already scheduled to receive additional income tax revenues under 2015 road-funding laws.
“We heard a very, very low number” back from the administration, he said. “Then we countered that with what we thought was a reasonable number, and then we got crickets.”
Whitmer said infusing more one-time money into roads — a practice that has been used every year since the 2011-12 budget — “does not fix the problem. In fact, it makes it more expensive to do the work because it makes it more expensive to plan. … This is the exact kind of gimmick that got us in this problem in the first place.”
Republicans countered that Michigan can spend more of its existing tax dollars on roads while still prioritizing schools and drinking water protections.
The K-12 budget that won initial approval would boost funding by $395 million, including a $304 million increase in per-pupil grants to districts and charter schools.
The minimum per-student allowance — which most districts receive, including charter schools — would increase from $7, 871 to $8,111, a $240, or 3%, increase. Districts at the higher end would get $8,529, or $120 more than the current $8,409 allotment — a 1.4% bump.
While schools would receive more base aid under the GOP budget than under Whitmer’s proposal, the vast majority of districts would see bigger net funding hikes if her plan were adopted because she included additional “weighted” funds for special education, low-income, and career and technical ed students.
Also Thursday, House-Senate conference committees approved bills that include a $120 million boost to protect drinking water — which matches the total amount proposed by the governor. The money would be used to help implement tougher lead-in-water rules, to address contamination from chemicals known collectively as PFAS and to issue grants to water suppliers seeking low-interest loans for infrastructure projects.
Fifteen public universities criticized Republicans’ vote to increase their state operations funding by 0.5%, less than the 3% Whitmer sought.
“Today’s conference committee proposal assures we will continue falling behind other states in college affordability, less affluent students will take out more student loans and we will discourage some middle-class students from getting degrees needed to retain and attract employers,” said Daniel Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities.
Whitmer said she is hopeful that budgets sent to prioritize education and “closing the skills gap.”