Whitmer signs bills to complete budget, hails bipartisanship
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday signed off on $55 billion in spending to complete the state budget, hailing the bipartisan bills as an example of finding common ground with Republicans despite partisan tension during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This budget shows that divided government doesn’t have to be dysfunctional government,” the Democrat said at Lansing Community College.
She emphasized how the laws, which include billions in federal COVID-19 relief aid, will expand eligibility for child care subsidies, provide $1,000 bonuses to child care workers and continue to fund new tuition-free assistance for 167,000 adults ages 25 and up and frontline workers to attend community college. The funding will repair or replace 100 local bridges, clean up polluted sites, fix aging dams and replace lead water lines in Benton Harbor.
It will make permanent and slightly raise — to $2.35 an hour — a wage hike for “direct care” workers in nursing homes and other residential facilities along with in-home caregivers.
The blueprint includes $53 billion in non-school aid spending for the fiscal year that starts Friday and $2.3 billion in supplemental funding for the current budget year. The K-12 budget was finalized over the summer.
Whitmer vetoed roughly $16 million in funding tied to anti-abortion provisions that she said would have promoted the GOP’s “political agenda.” The sections would have required marketing programs and family planning services to promote alternatives to abortion.
“We know that reproductive health care is critical to women and families,” she said, drawing praise from groups that support abortion rights and criticism from those that oppose them.
She also declared unconstitutional or unenforceable various Republican-written “boilerplate” policy provisions, including ones that tried to ban local masks mandates for schools and defund local health departments with COVID-19 orders if those orders lack the support of the relevant county commissioners.
“Where we found agreement ... is so much bigger and overwhelming,” the governor said.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Thomas Albert, a Lowell Republican, touted the bills’ injection of money into the unemployment benefits trust fund — which was targeted by fraudsters — a $500 million deposit into savings and new spending to help communities disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.
He called it an “excellent” budget but said he was saddened, though not surprised, by the line-item vetoes and decisions on the enforceability of certain provisions.
“As a state, we must do better helping pregnant mothers in need, including the promotion of adoption as an alternative to abortion,” Albert said.
Emergency medical services providers will receive an increased state Medicaid reimbursement for the first time in more than 20 years, enabling them to also draw additional federal funding. They said the pandemic and underfunding have pushed them to the brink financially.
“This budget increase will allow us to increase pay for paramedics and EMTs and recruit much-needed new staff into the profession,” said Jack Fisher, executive director of Medic 1 Ambulance in Berrien County and president of the Michigan Association of Ambulance Services.
Next, Whitmer and the GOP-led Legislature will turn to allocating an unprecedented amount of federal coronavirus relief funding, much of it discretionary.
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