Michigan Republicans said they are committed to working with the governor to avoid more budget drama, but expressed a number of concerns with her new budget proposal.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer unveiled her Fiscal Year 2021 budget proposal Thursday, which clocks in at $61.9 billion, The Michigan Star reported. One lawmaker, however, was frustrated that Whitmer had State Budget Director Chris Kolb present the budget to legislators rather than doing it herself.
“I want to work with the governor to solve Michigan’s most pressing issues, so I’m disappointed she didn’t personally unveil her own recommendation for the next budget year,” Rep. Sarah Lightner (R-Springport) said in a statement. “It’s very important that she re-establish good communication with the Legislature, especially after last year, when she walked away from budget negotiations and then vetoed funding to support some of Michigan’s most vulnerable residents. I am sure we can find common ground, but to do that, we have to be able to talk.”
Others were concerned with the lack of funding for local roads, increased spending, cuts to agricultural programs, and the state’s pension tax.
“The thought of passing on further state debt to our children and grandchildren as a result of the governor’s road bonds doesn’t sit well with me. Especially given that the bonds will not address roads in rural communities like ours. Bonds can only be used for state-owned roads, which are predominantly in urban areas. We need a better solution that cuts unnecessary government spending and prioritizes roads across the entire state,” said Rep. Eric Leutheuser (R-Hillsdale).
Whitmer announced during her State of the State address that she planned to borrow $3.5 billion in state bonds and received approval from the State Transportation Committee to proceed with the plan.
“That move does nothing to fix the 110,000 miles of roads that people are on when they roll out of their driveways – and the data shows those are the roads in the worst shape,” said Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Village of Milford). “The governor admitted in the State of the State that her decision to borrow was hatched from impatience after the feedback she got on what would have been a nation-high gas tax. But patience is integral to get this right for drivers across the state.”
Whitmer’s proposed budget eliminates $4 million in funding for the Food and Agriculture Investment Program, which provides grants to support agriculture expansion projects.
“Agriculture is a cornerstone of our community and our state and I am disappointed the governor cannot look outside of her own roots to recognize that,” said Leutheuser.
Lightner agreed with his assessment and said the governor should “support the continued growth of agriculture, not inhibit it,” since it is the second-largest economic industry in Michigan.
State Rep. Joe Bellino (R-Monroe) called on Whitmer to repeal the state pension tax, an idea that was included in her first budget proposal as governor.
“I have said this before, and I’m going to keep saying it until it gets done – we’ve got to repeal the pension tax in Michigan. It’s crippling the finances of seniors across the state, and we’ve got to get rid of it,” he said, noting that Whitmer campaigned on repealing the tax.
“We need the Legislature and the governor working together so we can stop balancing the budget on the backs of our seniors. They’ve paid taxes their whole lives, and they deserve some relief in retirement,” he continued. “It’s an unfair tax that people simply were not prepared for when these changes were rushed through in 2011 and 2012. It’s a fairness issue, and I’m not giving up on my efforts to repeal this tax.”
State Rep. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) said Whitmer’s funding increase for education “comes at the expense of our teachers’ pensions.”
A 2018 bill sponsored by Albert and signed into law requires the state to lower the payroll growth assumption used in the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System.
“I recently received a response from the Attorney General’s office agreeing with my position that the payroll growth assumption must be lowered to 2.75 percent from 3.5 percent. This small percentage change might not sound like a lot, but it has an estimated $166 million impact on the pension payment this year alone,” he said. “Gov. Whitmer has often accused Republicans of using pensioners money for other purposes – yet her budget flagrantly disregards the law by underfunding the pension system. The hypocrisy is pretty thick.”
Whitmer and the Republican-controlled legislature have until October 1 to agree on a budget in order to avoid a government shutdown.
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