Michigan Legislature OKs restoring over half of vetoed funds

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Republican-led Michigan Legislature on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted to restore more than half of the state funding that Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed, largely resolving a protracted budget process that broke down over fixing aging roads and morphed into a fight about gubernatorial powers.

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Whitmer agreed to a provision that would let lawmakers undo any department fund transfers initiated by her State Administrative Board for spending related to the supplemental spending. Other bills would impose notification requirements on the board, require legislators to pass a budget by July 1 each year and clarify that the state auditor can access confidential or electronically stored information from the executive branch.

Whitmer called the deal "an important step forward for Michigan, which includes funding for health care, rural and urban hospitals, tethers to monitor dangerous felons, and our vocational villages. I support this bipartisan bill and will sign it, honor the terms and not challenge any of its provisions."

She nixed an unprecedented amount of funding — $630 million, or 1.8%, of state spending ($947 million with federal funds) — at the deadline on Sept. 30 after being sent a budget without her input following a breakdown over road funding.

The gridlock began in March, when Whitmer — who campaigned on fixing the roads — proposed a 45-cents-a-gallon fuel tax increase that went nowhere. By September, with the clock ticking to fund government nearing, she and GOP legislative leaders tabled road-funding talks to focus on the budget. But negotiations quickly broke down when Republicans proposed diverting general funds to roads and bridges this budget year, and the Legislature sent her a spending plan she deemed a “mess.”

GOP lawmakers had expected line-item vetoes but were surprised at their magnitude. She also used a board to unilaterally shift other funding around, angering Republicans.

The legislation would restore $574 million — including $35 million so charter schools get the same funding increase that most traditional K-12 districts received, reinstate $7 million for 172 rural school districts and $38 million in need-based tuition assistance for students at in-state private colleges.

About $13 million would be revived to keep on the job 119 sheriff's deputies who patrol roads. Nearly $15 million would reimburse jails for housing felons who otherwise may have been sent to state prisons, and roughly $25 million would be restored to rural hospitals — not including higher Medicaid reimbursement rates they also would receive.

The spending bills also would reverse some of the $625 million in department fund transfers made by Whitmer.

“It created a serious problem of being out of balance between the executive office and the Legislature in terms of negotiating and establishing the budget," said Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Clarklake Republican. “These changes reinstate that balance, so there's a real separation of powers and a real balance of exchange with regards to budgets."

“It's really just a good compromise that allowed us to move forward," said Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, a Flint Democrat. He said he did not think the governor had yielded any of her executive powers by agreeing to some changes related to the Administrative Board.

When the Legislature returns in January, it is expected to consider how to address $373 million in vetoed funding that would be not reinstated by the bills headed to Whitmer.

The legislation does not address her largest single veto — a GOP-proposed $375 million shift in discretionary funds to the $5 billion transportation budget. Whitmer has said the move would not solve Michigan's $2.5 billion road-funding problem.

Discussions about road funding have been on hold for months.

Other big items that Whitmer blocked and which are not included in the supplemental measures are funding for the Pure Michigan tourism and marketing program and the Going Pro campaign to help businesses recruit students into the trades and other high-demand fields.

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