Whitmer vetoes further Up North, downstate rift

It always has been an “us versus them” mentality for those of us who call Up North home.

We refer to “downstaters” with a certain disdain in our voice. Who are “they” to try and tell us what we need, what we don’t have, or how backward we are up here?

“Why, some of you still are on dial-up internet service, for Heaven’s sake,” they observe, as if we just turned back the clock 20 years.

The geographical rift between north and south became that much more pronounced this week, courtesy of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the red ink with which she filled the state budget via her line-item vetoes.

Make no mistake, many of the items she targeted with her veto knife were programs aimed for “outstate” legislative districts — seats usually held by Republicans. The Associated Press reported that the cuts to programs impacting rural hospitals, the Pure Michigan tourism promotion campaign, and grants to the Michigan State Police to have county sheriff departments assist in secondary road patrols will especially hurt rural Michigan legislative districts.

The moves were bold, specific, and delivered with a message. From a political standpoint, I applaud her tenacity.

The verdict remains out, however, as to which party stands the most to lose from the ongoing budget story. Neither state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey nor House Speaker Lee Chatfield seemed eager this week to rush in and change any of Whitmer’s red ink, even after the governor left the door open for them to do so.

I believe they are willing to allow voters to simmer awhile over her cuts. I believe they want journalists, like those here at The Alpena News, to report the ramications of the cuts to the local communities. In a story Friday, reporter Steve Schulwitz talked with local leaders abut the cuts which have resulted in lost Michigan Economic Development Corp. funding for local projects and reduced hours and/or services for veterans needing help at the county Veterans Affairs offices.

Whitmer acknowledged to Chad Livengood in a Crain’s Detroit Business story this week that her actions were not without risk, especially if Republicans do not rush back to the negotiating table.

“I’m well aware that could happen, and that’s why we made the decisions that we made,” Whitmer told Livengood. “If they choose to do that, that will be on them. The consequences will be real, will be serious. We’re going to do everything we can to mitigate them.”

But, if you ask me, all this political posturing between the parties seems akin to playing Russian roulette.

Where is the logic, for instance, in removing road patrols in rural areas? Why would anyone jeopardize public safety?

And I found it ironic that, while Democratic Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren on Friday tweeted that “we need to cancel student debt and make college free for everyone who wants it,” students at Michigan private college and universities were left scrambling for funds after Whitmer, the Democratic governor, vetoed scholarships for those students with her cuts. The scholarships certainly made schooling much more affordable for students, with now many students perhaps not even able to continue in the second semester because of the lost funding.

State Sen. Jim Stamas, as head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, had a firsthand seat in the budget preparations. On Thursday, he said he was not pleased by the governor’s actions, saying he was “extremely disappointed” by her vetoes.

“We delivered a responsible and balanced state budget on time that increased funding for roads and schools, and she virtually gutted it because it doesn’t include her massive $2.5 billion tax hike on Michigan families (road funding),” Stamas said in a statement.

According to Mackinac Center for Public Policy numbers, Whitmer’s 147 line-item vetoes trimmed $947 million, or 1.6% from the budget the Legislature approved, leaving a 2019-20 state budget that will spend a total of $57.9 billion.

By singling out Up North legislative districts with her vetoes, however, Whitmer set the tone again of a “we” versus “them” battle between urban and rural areas of the state.

It’s a shame, really, when you think about it.

Then again, it’s nothing new.

I hate to say it, but those of us who call Up North home are rather used to it, by now.

Bill Speer can be reached at 989-354-3111, ext. 311, or bspeer@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @billspeer13.


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