GOP lawmakers and Whitmer officials optimistic about finalizing budget plan


Michigan’s Republican-led legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration are in the midst of negotiating the 2022 budget and looking at how to spend about $ 8 billion more than planned thanks to federal stimulus money and the US surplus. ‘State.

Budget officials have expressed confidence that the fiscal year spending plan will be completed by the end of the month and avoid state government shutdown, despite a recent email sent to state agencies. warning them to prepare for a shutdown.

Much of the additional $ 8 billion will likely be placed in a separate supplementary budget in an effort to avoid over-reliance on one-time money for long-term programs in the annual budget.

“My biggest concern, and what I’m looking at more closely, is that we are not increasing spending to levels that are not sustainable,” said Rep. Thomas Albert, the Republican of Lowell who chairs the committee. of the appropriations of the House. “I don’t want to find myself in a situation where we have to make cuts next year.”

In late June, the Legislature and Whitmer passed a record $ 17.1 billion K-12 education budget before the schools began fiscal year, but suspended all deals for the remainder of the budget. annual.

Whitmer proposed a budget of $ 67.1 billion in February, a jump from last year’s $ 62.8 billion spending plan. The increase is in part a reflection of the billions of additional dollars that have been added thanks to federal COVID-19 relief dollars channeled to the state.

In June 2020, forecasters were predicting a $ 3 billion budget hole due to the pandemic, but tax revenues exceeded expectations. In February, the state expected a surplus of $ 3.7 billion.

The base budget was built on these more optimistic estimates, but forecasters have since estimated there is another $ 1.5 billion surplus.

Earlier this month, state budget director Dave Massaron sent a note to department and agency directors to create contingency plans in case a budget deal is not reached before the September 30, which is the end of the year. The plans should include determining which functions within departments could be “temporarily suspended” in the event of closure, Massaron wrote.

The letter was sent to prepare for contingencies and “is not an indication of losing hope of reaching a budget deal,” said Kurt Weiss, spokesperson for the state budget office.

“Progress is being made, and we know there is a common desire to complete the budget by October 1,” Weiss said.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Thomas Albert R-Lowell said greatest concern for budget deal "is that we are not increasing spending to levels that are unsustainable."

Leaders have started working with the reports of the appropriation subcommittees, which propose budgets for each of the individual state departments. There is “steady progress” on the budget, said Abby Mitch, spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake.

“We plan to deliver a quality, timely budget that maximizes available funds without creating legacy costs for future taxpayers,” she said.

With the cash surplus, Senator Curtis Hertel, D-East Lansing, hopes to spend more money on road and water infrastructure, the state mental health system, investment in talent and strategic stocks. for the next pandemic.

“This is an opportunity we need to invest in Michigan’s future,” said Hertel, minority vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “This is a unique opportunity that the legislature has not had for a long time, that the state has not had.”

Rep. Joe Tate, the Detroit Democrat who serves as the minority vice-chair of the House Appropriations Committee, shared Hertel’s prioritization of infrastructure needs, pointing to continued flooding in the Detroit area.

Further, he said, “We continue to feel the impacts of the pandemic. It is certainly not over,to ensure we have dedicated resources for Michigan residents. “

Earlier versions of the GOP-run house budget included several instances of boilerplate language that linked funding for school aid to in-person learning and other funding on terms that prohibited the state from develop vaccine mandates for employees or as a condition of service provision.

It remains to be seen whether these items will be included in the final spending plan, Albert said.

The governor’s recent reluctance to issue new state health orders is reassuring, Albert said, and likely a consequence of headwinds from the state and the country towards further pandemic restrictions.

“We came in really strong at the start of the year and then Governor Whitmer started to come our way a bit,” Albert said. “And we worked better together until June.”

But, he said, “if she were to go back to some of those heavy lifting that we’ve seen in the past, we’re going to change our posture as well.”

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