A reckless lack of leadership

For nearly a decade, the Legislature has approved a budget well ahead of the new fiscal year. This year, negotiations were burdened by the governor’s proposed tax hike on Michigan families. Her proposed tax increase halted the budget process and left schools, local governments and many Michiganders with an uncertain future.

For the first time in years, our schools started the new school year with uncertainty, and for weeks, state departments, local governments and residents were left wondering if government will shut down, leaving numerous much-needed services unavailable.

In May, the Senate approved a budget plan showing how we could increase funding for roads and schools to record levels with existing revenues. After months of discussing ways we could avoid a $2.5 billion tax increase that residents and legislators nearly uniformly disagreed with, and months of being accused of taking a break without finishing our job, we revisited the budget a second time.

In June, my colleagues and I approved a plan to fund education at record levels, which included funding that would have given schools across the 33rd Senate District a foundation allowance boost. The Legislature’s plan would have also invested billions of dollars into our crumbling roads, including a one-time funding measure for local roads and bridges.

Unfortunately, the fate of the budget was halted as soon as Gov. Whitmer uncapped her red pen.

While “signing” the state budget, the governor issued a historic 147 line-item vetoes that recklessly cut nearly $1 billion in funding approved by the Legislature. Her cuts included $128 million from the K-12 school aid budget, $13 million for county sheriff secondary road patrols that aid rural communities, $37 million for the Going Pro job training program and $10 million for rural jobs and development.

The governor also cut $34 million for critical access hospitals, $4 million for county veterans services and $4 million that would ensure our state’s foster care programs are funded and functioning.

As if these cuts weren’t drastic or damaging enough, she then used a rarely used administrative tool to make over $600 million more in cuts. To many, her use of the State Administrative Board was the straw that ultimately broke the camel’s back.

The State Administrative Board was established in a time when travel to the Capitol was limited. The board was only intended for the rare occasions when action was required, but the Legislature could not be gathered quickly. The board is made up of officials within the governor’s administration — and those seven, unelected officials unilaterally decided where your money should go under the governor’s direction.

This means your voice and your vote, through the Legislature, were ignored.

These purely politically motivated actions have left a taste of distrust in the mouths of residents and lawmakers alike. Members of her own caucus are taking to the local news questioning her strategy and discussing how these cuts are bad for Michigan.

The governor has now called us back to the negotiating table in hopes of righting her wrong and getting funding restored to these crucial state services. I apologize for being skeptical, but in all my years of public service, I have never seen such reckless behavior or distrust of an elected official.

We have done our work, twice, and approved a responsible budget that made sure crucial programs were funded, necessary services would be delivered, and our most important issues were addressed. I voted to support funding for roads, schools, the trades, public safety and water quality. That same vote was my vote against a massive tax increase on working families.

For years we learned to tighten our belts and live on what we have, not go back to the taxpayers with a hand out saying it’s not enough. The budget we approved — and that the governor gutted in a temper tantrum — did just that.

Instead, as a punishment for not giving her the tax increase she wanted, she went after rural communities across the state. Both chambers have shown reluctance to proceed until she realizes the administration is not the only branch of government. We want a commitment from her to never again take such reckless action against the residents she took an oath to serve.

Sen. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, represents the 33rd state Senate District, which includes Clare, Gratiot, Isabella, Mecosta, and Montcalm counties.