A budget reminder — Whitmer needs Legislature

This column originally appeared in the Detroit News.

“For those of you who want to keep playing games, I’m going to press on without you,” said the governor who held funding for kids with autism hostage in a crass (and failed) political game designed to ram a gas tax hike plan through the Legislature. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer garnered big headlines following her TV address for a proclamation that she didn’t need a Legislature, and she was going to simply forgo things like leadership and building consensus.

Granted, when the 13-year-old she singled out during her State of the State speech has done more to fix Michigan roads than she has, distraction is an artful ploy.

Roads? She said she doesn’t need lawmakers. Boom.  A $5.1 billion debt-plan to fix non-local roads. Debt without an appropriation.

Schools? She said she doesn’t need a Legislature. Boom. She’s formed a committee of public-school bureaucrats and liberal special interest groups to tell districts how to avoid a law that requires they help struggling readers. Existing law undermined by authoritarian fiat.

The law says workers can choose whether to join or not join a union? Ka-pow. The governor sends her regulatory affairs department to deny licenses to small businesses without unionized workforces. Forget the rule of law!

It’s an approach that would have raised a few eyebrows among the framers of the state’s Constitution, in which Article 3, Section 2, divides the powers of the government between three co-equal branches — and lists the legislative branch first. No person exercising powers of one branch, drafters declared and the people ratified, shall exercise powers properly belonging to another branch.  Powers like appropriating funds or amending laws.

Of course, the governor knows that, and as much as she might wish the Legislature didn’t exist, the Constitution to which she pledged an oath forces her to govern in partnership.

So, while Whitmer spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV ads telling voters she doesn’t need their much-more-local and much-more-accountable representatives in Lansing, she came to those same lawmakers just over a week ago, both hands out, with a budget proposal for the coming year.

In one twist of irony, she even asked lawmakers for $3 million to create an office to run the $5.1 billion road debt program she launched because, “I’m going to press on without you.”

The risk she runs with her current rhetoric, of course, is that the House and Senate remind her they have a say in the process, too.  In fact, they’ve got the first say.

Instead of reacting along the edges to the governor’s unserious budget — $100,000 to hire a poet, $40 million doled out to cities to solve climate change — the House and Senate have the opportunity to approach the coming months as their chance to fight back for local families and taxpayers.

We should expect House and Senate Republicans to be bold.

The governor vetoed road funding last year to fix crumbling city streets and bridges.

They should pass it again. 

The governor proposed cutting funding for public school kids who attend their schools online to meet their educational needs during serious health challenges, or in the face of chronic bullying. They should increase it instead. 

Whitmer’s 2021 education budget as a percentage is less than the increase schools saw under Gov. Rick Snyder in 2018. The Legislature should lead where she refuses and do more. Instead of narrowing the gap in the foundation allowance, why not close the gap to zero and fully fund every student.

The governor wants to use her department of licensing and regulatory affairs to slam the breaks on small businesses and violate workers’ constitutional rights? Fund LARA with a dollar. 

Legislative. Executive. Judicial. Three co-equal branches of government. For the sake of Michigan’s school kids, workers and entrepreneurs, lawmakers should send the governor a bold reminder of the Constitution to which she feigned an oath.

Greg McNeilly is chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund.

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