Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the state legislature passed a budget during the final hours of Sept. 30 to avoid a government shutdown, but Whitmer vetoed 147 line-items from the budget proposed by Republicans, resulting in almost $1 billion in cuts.
According to James Hohman of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the budget that the Republicans submitted was meant to fund budget priorities without raising taxes. The Republicans specifically wanted to avoid a 45-cent gas tax pushed by Whitmer.
“Legislators were able to fund 99% of what the governor recommended in school funding, and 93% of what she recommended in transportation funding,” Hohman said.
Rep. Eric Leutheuser of Hillsdale and Branch counties said the gas tax was meant to fund a “wish list” of programs that were too expensive to be included in the budget. However, increased gasoline prices would have disproportionately impacted people living in rural areas, who often drive long distances to get to work, Leutheuser added.
“When we did this budget, we had record amounts of spending for schools, record amounts of spending for roads,” Leutheuser said prior to the budget approval. “These are very good budgets. We think they address people’s priorities, and we’re doing it within our means.”
Whitmer did not express the same concerns as her Republican colleagues. Despite the fact that education is one of Whitmer’s priorities, she made cuts which included a $38 million decrease in higher education tuition grants and vetoed a $35 million allowance for charter schools.
Whitmer cited that these cuts in education were made “to protect … classroom spending for our children,” according to a press release published on Sept. 30 from the Office of Gov. Whitmer.
The press release said Whitmer vetoed $128 million in school aid funding that she claimed was “pork barrel” spending, or money that was going to private companies rather than classrooms.
Leutheuser said the money was meant to be spent on things like literacy coaching and special education.
“We were padding money for literacy coaches because literacy is truly a big indicator for success,” Leutheuser said. “Local school districts desperately need special education.”
As for Whitmer’s other vetoes, “some of them are questionable,” Hohman said. “She ran on more road funding, and then vetoed more road funding.”
Although these cuts may seem drastic, Hohman took an optimistic view.
“The items vetoed by Whitmer are really a very small part,” he said. “She only vetoed 1.6% of the budget.”
As for the $1 billion decrease in spending, Hohman said that the number should be viewed in comparison to the total yearly budget, which is $550.7 billion.
Hohman said he doesn’t think it’s likely that Republicans will try to renegotiate.
“There’s not a good impetus to make the thousands of decisions that are necessary in order to compromise on a budget,” he said. “Since we have an ongoing budget and the deadline has passed, there’s a sense of urgency. The time to compromise has vanished.”
At the end of the day, the budget will still increase by $543 million this year in spite of Whitmer’s cuts, Hohman added.
“Vetoing the spending doesn’t mean vetoing revenues,” he added. “They can still decide how they want to spend those in the future.”