$ 1.5 billion for Michigan childcare in limbo as GOP plays hard with Governor Gretchen Whitmer
The Michigan Senate, meanwhile, has passed a law prohibiting the state from requiring children under the age of 5. wear masks, Posted a summons for the state’s health department’s pandemic policy-making records and brought forward a budget bill that would ban the state from developing a passport system for vaccines, which Whitmer said that she had no intention of doing.
Beyond COVID policy, GOP lawmakers this week used budget bills to try to pressure Whitmer to drop her shutdown attempt Enbridge Line 5 pipeline and ban Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson from sending postal ballot requests to voters.
It’s not unusual for lawmakers to try to use the budget process to advance their own political agenda, but “the extent to which that happens” is now unique, said Mitch Bean, who headed the agency. Non-Partisan Tax House, in Bridge Michigan.
“It’s more aggressive than what I’ve seen,” said Bean, who served from 1993 to 2011.
While Whitmer would likely veto many measures if they reached his office, Republicans argue their push is justified given the governor’s “one-sided” action on COVID-19 policies and other fronts.
The new House legislation aims to permanently ban Whitmer from transferring large sums of money to state department budgets, as it did in 2019 during a standoff with the Legislature, but agreed not to do it last year.
“We have reached a point in recent years where it is no longer a question of theory, but of blatant actions that have already taken place,” said sponsor representative Ben Frederick, R-Owosso.
“We had budgets passed by very wide bipartisan margins, signed off by the governor, and then hundreds of millions of dollars for programming wiped out and basically reallocated.”
But House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski, Township of D-Scio, said it was irresponsible for Republicans to use child care funding as leverage in their power struggle with Whitmer, arguing that federal funding of $ 1.5 billion in COVID-19 relief could help parents looking to return to the country. job.
“Our friends and neighbors are in their hour of need right now, and… we are using that desperation to leverage a political agenda,” Lasinski said.
‘Not at the table’
The state’s annual budget, which funds public health and other government operations, is on hold and is due to be finalized by October 1.
Michigan officials also need to decide how to spend $ 6.5 billion in new federal stimulus money, along with the roughly $ 2 billion left over from previous stimulus bills and billions more that need to be sent to schools and to local communities.
House Speaker Jason Wentworth R-Farwell has made it clear that Republicans will not negotiate with Whitmer until she gives them more say in the state’s current response to the COVID pandemic -19.
And that hasn’t happened yet, he told reporters on Thursday.
“At this point, the administration is not at the table,” Wentworth said, accusing Whitmer of blowing up what had been constructive talks two weeks ago by “unilaterally” announcing a new policy aimed at ease COVID-19 restrictions when the state responds to certain vaccinations. thresholds.
“I have a military and police background, where there’s a lot of trust with the people I work with,” said Wentworth, who has worked as a military police officer and for public law enforcement agencies and private.
“The governor’s background is in politics, and I don’t know where that takes us at this point.
Whitmer, an attorney, said the state’s new “Vacc to Normal” plan incorporated input from legislative leaders, who had urged her for months to set clear parameters for when and how her administration would ease the burden. COVID-19 restrictions.
“Gov. Whitmer said she was ready to work with anyone who wanted to work with her to get things done, which we did exactly by working with leaders on both sides of the aisle to build a way forward for our Status under the MI Vacc. normal plan, ”spokesman Bobby Leddy said Thursday.
Under the new COVID plan, offices will be able to reopen on May 24 because 55% of eligible adults have received at least one dose of an approved vaccine. The state’s health department will ease additional restrictions when more people are vaccinated and lift all other regulations after 70% of eligible Michiganders receive their first dose.
House Republicans on Thursday finalized their own $ 13 billion stimulus spending plan, which includes $ 184.4 million for vaccine distribution. The GOP majority rejected a Democratic amendment that would have added an additional $ 5 million for the state to develop “innovative strategies” for vaccine distribution.
Wentworth acknowledged that Whitmer would likely veto expense bills his office failed to help negotiate, which he called “frustrating for the people of Michigan.”
Yet legislative Republicans who cannot pass laws without the governor’s signature are using the budget process to force political debates.
Among the provisions included in the expense invoices this week but not yet sent to Whitmer for review:
- Enbridge legal invoices: A spending plan approved by the Senate would require the state to pay legal fees for the Canada-based energy company if Whitmer loses the litigation to revoke the easement agreement that allowed Enbridge to run the pipeline through the Straits of Mackinac.
- SOS meeting: Senate-approved spending bill seeks to force Secretary of State branches to offer in person services walk-in for at least 25 hours a week, undermining Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s plan to move to an appointment-only system.
- Voters’ Email: House-approved budget bill would bar Benson from sending mails postal voting requests voters, as she did before the 2020 election. Benson would also need to notify legislative leaders and local clerks before mailing any election-related information to voters.
- COVID violations: A Budget bill approved by the House seeks to ban the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration from publishing the names of companies that violate COVID-19 orders, and includes language directing the state to return all fines that were imposed on employers last year between April 30 and October 13.
- Nursing Home Surveys: A House spending bill approved Thursday would use $ 5 million in federal stimulus funds for an idea already proposed by the Senate: grants for county prosecutors to investigate “the processes and policies of care facilities nurses in response to COVID-19 “.
- Mandatory vaccines: Many House-approved budget bills include language that would prohibit state departments from requiring proof of a COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of access to government services or facilities. The spending plan would also be ban universities require vaccination as a prerequisite for registration or participation in in-person classes.
- Vaccine passports: House and Senate budget bills would prohibit the state health department or other agencies from developing or using vaccine passports. Whitmer has made it clear that his administration has no plans to create a Michigan vaccine passport.
The spending bills actually make no sense because they weren’t negotiated with Whitmer, said Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., a Democrat from East Lansing who ridiculed GOP pressure to ban passports vaccines because the state does not plan to develop one.
“I hope now that we’ve won the crazy Bingo conspiracy theory, we can… work on things that are really going on in Michigan that matter to the people of Michigan,” Hertel said in a derisive speech Thursday. .
Even if Whitmer signs some of the budget bills, she could use her authority to declare the policy provisions proposed by Republicans unconstitutional or unenforceable, said Bean, the former director of the House Fiscal Agency.
Lawmakers know that, “so part of that is just making a statement, of course,” he said.
These declarations have had concrete consequences.
Some $ 841 million in federal funding for Michigan schools is still in limbo after Whitmer vetoed a Republican bill that would have prevented state health officials from closing schools or events athletes due to the pandemic.
Likewise, federal relief funding for businesses has been blocked because Whitmer has twice vetoed GOP spending plans, saying lawmakers failed to negotiate with his office.
“I’m sure there’s a lot of blame to be done, but it’s absurd the way it goes,” Bean said. “They need to come together and figure this stuff out.”