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Whitmer to present budget proposal to Legislature

Rick Pluta
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

The budget season at the state Capitol kicks off Wednesday as Governor Gretchen Whitmer will present her spending plans for the coming fiscal year to a joint meeting of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

The Whitmer administration is working with $32.3 billion in discretionary money in the School Aid Fund and the General Fund – which is kind of the state’s main checkbook. The only real requirements are that spending cannot exceed revenue and a budget must be adopted before the start of the new fiscal year on October 1.

“This balanced, fiscally responsible budget is going to include proposals that are going to lower costs for Michiganders, help children succeed from pre-K through post-secondary, and ensure that any person or business can make it in Michigan,” said Lauren Leeds, public information officer for the State Budget Office.

The budget presentation follows the governor’s State of the State address, which was delivered on January 24 and outlined some of her priorities for the coming year.

Michigan Budget Office Director Jen Flood
Rick Pluta
Michigan Public Radio Network
Michigan Budget Office Director Jen Flood

Some of the details have already trickled out. One is to take advantage of a $670 million windfall created because the state is relieved of payments after fully funding health care obligations to retired public school employees. That can now be used for other education-related expenses, such as expanding the state’s early childhood program.

Republicans are already pushing back, arguing the Whitmer administration is using a shell game to fund favored programs.

“I’ll do my best to try to stop another dumb proposal that doesn’t make a lick of financial sense,” said Senator Thomas Albert (R-Lowell), a Republican who sits on the appropriations committee, in a Tuesday floor speech. “There is one more thing that we should bear in mind – no matter what, the Legislature has the power of the purse. The governor can only divert funds from the pension system if the Legislature permits it. I say we should stand together and say no.”

But the Democratic governor is working with Democrats in control of the Legislature, which should make their job somewhat easier. Their numbers are very close, though. The House is currently operating under a 54-54 tie until special elections fill two vacancies in two districts that lean strongly Democratic.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network.