Budget-weary lawmakers shift focus to non-budget issues
By DAVID EGGERT
LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Legislature’s top leaders met for the first time in a month Thursday but focused very little of their discussion on the messy state budget process, instead talking about criminal justice legislation.
The meeting was held in the wake of the Democratic governor’s signing a largely Republican-written budget this week while vetoing an unprecedented $947 million in proposed spending. The GOP-led Legislature had sent her the plan days before the deadline following a breakdown in talks over shifting discretionary funds to repair roads and bridges.
Whitmer wants lawmakers to pass a supplemental budget bill that includes her priorities and could potentially restore items she vetoed.
“What we’re trying to do is bipartisan work on some policy issues first and see if we can get some agreement on those and kind of recalibrate and get to a place where we can get back to the daily functions getting done,” said Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, a Flint Democrat. “That supplemental can go at any time or not go depending on what the majority decides to do.”
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Clarklake Republican, had said he was in no rush to revisit the budget and wanted to discuss legislation related to raising Michigan’s age to treat criminal defendants as adults to 18 and overhauling the expungement process.
“It was an overall very positive meeting,” said Amber McCann, Shirkey’s spokeswoman. Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said it was a “good meeting overall.”
The vetoes affect funding for roads, hospitals, counties, need-based college scholarships, tourism advertising, charter schools, sheriff’s road patrols and other parts of the budget.
“The budget is done. It’s time to move on,” said House Speaker Lee Chatfield, a Levering Republican who accused Whitmer of “trying to leverage autistic kids, the roads, schools and veterans so she can get some of her pet projects and her 45-cent gas tax. … If she wants to admit that she made a mistake and present to us another supplemental with all the line items back in there, I’m happy to have a conversation.”
Whitmer said this week that she was aware that Republicans might not agree to restore what she vetoed.
“If they choose to do that, then it’s going to be on them. The consequences of it will be real, will be serious,” she said, adding that the GOP attempted to shift general funds from “critical” government functions to the transportation budget for a “talking-point road plan.”
She has unsuccessfully pushed for a 45-cents-a-gallon fuel tax increase to permanently boost spending on crumbling roads.
Chatfield said the Legislature proceeded to pass the budget _ parts of its bipartisan _ after Whitmer “walked away” from talks. She has said Republicans violated an agreement to table road-funding discussions until after the budget when they made “ultimatums” and pushed to spend $500 million in general funds on roads this fiscal year.
Despite the impasse, top legislators were hopeful about the prospects of advancing non-budget bills to Whitmer’s desk.
In April, both the House and Senate voted to no longer automatically treat 17-year-old criminal defendants as adults. But legislators must resolve differences over how to ensure that the state fully funds an additional $17 million to $47 million in annual juvenile justice costs for counties.
In 45 states, the maximum age of juvenile court jurisdiction is 17, while Missouri’s law increasing the age to 17 will take effect in 2021. Michigan, Texas, Georgia and Wisconsin draw the line at age 16.
Another criminal justice-related focus is on expanding expungement, including for low-level marijuana offenders in the wake of the state’s legalization of the drug for recreational use.
“There’s a lot of good things that we can work on,” said House Minority Leader Christine Greig, a Farmington Hills Democrat. “Expungement helps with employment and helps with housing. … Michigan is behind the mark when it comes to raise-the-age” laws.
Legislation to authorize sports betting and online gambling also could become a focus, though Whitmer — like her Republican predecessor — has expressed concerns that the bills could syphon revenue from Michigan’s iLottery, which helps fund schools.
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