Michiganders care not about inside baseball on state budget

Last month, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer singlehandedly fired off 147 vetoes of state services, totaling over $947 million in cuts.

She admitted she did it in part to get the Republicans back to the budget bargaining table to iron out their differences.

Her legions of critics pounced on the vetoes, suggesting she was using the thousands of recipients of all that state aid as “pawns” in her showdown with the Rs.

Joining in the chorus of boos was Republican state Sen. Ruth Johnson, who fired off her own snarly letter to the governor, chastising her for those “cruel and wrong” decisions. She added in her analysis that “being a leader is recognizing you have made a mistake and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made a doozy by cutting those funds.”

You have to wonder if the good senator will now send a similar letter to her boss in the Senate, Republican Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, who singlehandedly blocked a tentative agreement to restore some of those “cruel and wrong” service cuts. His critics quickly pounced on him for using those recipients as “pawns” to get what he wanted from the governor, i.e. a signature on paper that she would never rearrange the budget on her own again.

She has publicly stated numerous times that, if the Republicans play ball on the budget in the future, she pledges not to use her extraordinary power to do that.

But the Senate leader does not trust the governor, so her handshake means nothing to him. Hence, he wants it in writing.

And she has said she won’t sign anything.

Can you say standoff?

As a result, with each passing day, hundreds of citizens will go without state services for autism, sheriff road patrols, rural hospital subsidies, and on an on. Those folks are caught in the middle of this political ping-pong game between these two who have, so far, just agreed to disagree on an inside-baseball dispute over whose budget bat is bigger than the other’s.

The ironic twist to the saga is that the Democratic governor and the Republican state House Speaker Lee Chatfield had hatched a deal to restore the budget cuts without the governor having to sign anything. Although she was ready to agree to language that would have given the Rs more authority over her budget powers.

“We’re very close to being done negotiating a supplemental (budget bill), and I think that’s really positive,” she told correspondents the morning after she and Mr. Chatfield signed off.

She added that, if lawmakers that day sent something to her desk, “we can put a bow on the budget and be done with it.”

It was the most positive news in weeks on the protracted budget stalemate, and you could almost hear the collective sigh of relief reverberate around the Capitol rotunda as news of the “very close” deal got legs. But, alas, the sighs were shorted-lived.

That’s because “very close” did not mean there was a deal and, within hours, it became clear that, unlike in hand grenades and horse shoes, close does not count in the Legislature.

Instead of a bow on the budget, Mr. Shirkey tossed a monkey wrench into the works, and the deal was off.

His critics, who had been playing defense on behalf of their governor, joyfully took to the offense and blamed him for being the “bad guy” who stubbornly stood in the way of restoring state aid. Mr. Shirkey explained that he supported the restoration. However, what he didn’t say was that, if he caved in without something in writing from the governor on the ancillary issue, he lost his leverage on that.

Mr. Shirkey has wrapped himself in the argument that, currently, the governor has too much budget authority, thus making the Legislature a “non-equal” branch of government. But others are whispering that there could be other motives under the radar.

First of all, he was not in the meeting between the governor and the speaker, sort of the odd-man-out routine. One GOP insider suggested there was a hint of jealousy in some of his comments aimed at the two who left him out.

On top of that, for months, there’s been speculation that Mr. Shirkey might run for governor. He’s never said that, but, when asked recently if others had approached him about that, he confessed, “I’m not going to lie to you.”

Now, his critics can blame him for wanting to make the governor look bad on those budgets cuts in that she started the fight in the first place and, the longer she dangles out there as the cuts reach critical mass, he’s got an issue to use against her if he decides to challenge her in three years.

While that makes for a great inside-the-palace-intrigue story, you have to wonder what the citizens are thinking out there as they face the possible shutdown of rural hospitals next month or the loss of veteran services down the road or who knows what?

Do they give two hoots about who needs to sign what, or who needs to blink first in order to turn the service faucet back on?

You know the answer to that, don’t you?


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