Michigan residents need all available federal COVID-19 relief funds, not a portion of them, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday hours before lawmakers sent her several GOP-backed pandemic plans.
The bills allocate approximately $4.3 billion in federal relief, providing federally approved money to improve vaccination and testing efforts, help families and businesses in need and make it easier for schools and students to return to normal.
But the measures tie more than $1 billion of those dollars to separate bills that would strip emergency pandemic powers away from the state health department. And they still withhold hundreds of millions of available federal dollars.
Speaking to reporters earlier in the day in Dearborn, Whitmer said she has not been included in any negotiations on these bills.
“They have not negotiated with us, which means that I’ve not signed off on any of the terms in it,” Whitmer said, according to video of the event published by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit.
“We need to deploy these dollars into our economy: ramping up vaccines, getting our kids back in school safely and helping small business. And any effort to curtail how much of that is going to be spent, I think is, you know it’s shortchanging the people in Michigan. It’s my hope that, you know, we can negotiate and come to terms and get these dollars deployed. But at this juncture, we’ll have to see what they do today.”
The proposals passed the Senate Tuesday evening and the House approved the same bills Wednesday afternoon. Both chambers approved the measures with largely bipartisan support, although Democrats in both chambers lamented not using all federal funds and tying relief to measures taking away powers from health officials.
“Michigan’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is being knee-capped,” House Democratic Leader Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township, said in a news release.
“Today, Republicans put up to vote an irresponsible plan that leaves nearly $2 billion of recovery dollars – Michigan taxpayer dollars – back in Washington. D.C. This will only prolong the suffering of Michigan families and small businesses when they need it most.”
The proposal puts Whitmer in a bind: if she vetoes the legislation taking away emergency powers, she risks the Legislature not distributing more than $1 billion the governor and advocates say are needed right now.
It’s a decision Republicans want her to make. If she signs all the bills into law, then the health department gives up power and the GOP can say they orchestrated the relief plan. If she vetoes portions of the bills, they can say the governor put her administration’s authority over funding schools and pandemic testing.
But the governor can just as easily point out that the Republicans used legislative ploys to tie desperately needed funding to political pet projects. That’s the exact argument House and Senate Democrats made when these measures were before both chambers.
Contact Dave Boucher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-938-4591. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.