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    GOP leaders offer ‘middle ground’ in budget talks; Whitmer won’t trade power

    Republican leaders are offering Gov. Gretchen Whitmer what they consider common ground on a procedural impasse that’s prevented a compromise on restoring funding cuts and transfers made last month.

    But the Democratic governor’s representatives made clear Whitmer won’t permanently trade away a power of her office as part of any deal that would add back part of the $947 million she vetoed in early October and another $625 million in department funding transfers.

    Whitmer’s openness to “boilerplate language” that would stop her from using State Administrative Board transfer powers is “common sense middle ground,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield said in a Tuesday statement.

    The Democratic governor’s openness to boilerplate language that would stop her from using State Administrative Board transfer powers is “common sense middle ground,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, left, and House Speaker Lee Chatfield said in a Tuesday statement.Buy Photo
    The Democratic governor’s openness to boilerplate language that would stop her from using State Administrative Board transfer powers is “common sense middle ground,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, left, and House Speaker Lee Chatfield said in a Tuesday statement. (Photo: The Detroit News)

    But how Republican leaders and Whitmer want to address boilerplate language varies.

    Boilerplate language is usually inserted in state budgets to direct how money should be spent. Republicans want Whitmer to support a bill that would specifically limit her ability to transfer funds within departmental budgets if the funds have boilerplate language attached to them.

    “I think this is a perfect landing spot,” Shirkey said Tuesday.

    But Whitmer’s administration has clarified that her willingness to refrain from using the State Administrative Board to make transfers would be limited to only potential supplemental bills this budget year, not to permanent restrictions on the governor’s transfer power.

    The governor has never said “she is willing to agree to a statutory change in powers that have been around for 98 years,” Whitmer’s spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said. “In fact, she has made quite clear for the last month that she will not.”

    “You know, we could settle this whole thing right now if these guys would shake hands with the governor on a negotiated budget agreement — like every other governor and Legislature in Michigan history,” Zack Pohl, Whitmer’s communications director, posted Tuesday on social media.

    The GOP-led Legislature and Whitmer have both outlined restorations they’d like to make to the budget over the last few weeks. They have been at an impasse over Whitmer’s use of the State Administrative Board to transfer money within departments, a tool not used since the early 1990s under Republican former Gov. John Engler’s administration.

    “Our first choice for a solution was to repeal the board or cap the dollar limits of its transfers,” but enforceable boilerplate language to limit the power would help to “solve this impasse,” said Shirkey, R-Clarklake, and Chatfield, R-Levering.

    “Being in divided government, compromise is necessary,” Shirkey and Chatfield said in a joint statement. “While this was not our first option, this is a simple solution that we can agree to. Let’s come together and get this done.”

    The statement follows a Monday letter from Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist in which Gilchrist said Whitmer would not use the State Administrative Board “assuming the governor and the Legislature resume the consistent past practice of negotiating budgets and supplementals.”

    He also signaled the governor would publicly demonstrate that commitment through a variety of options, including boilerplate language agreeing to a restriction on administrative board transfers for that specific supplemental spending bill.

    But the Legislature’s method of giving the boilerplate language the force of law — through separate legislation, House Bill 5176, proposed by Rep. Shane Hernandez, R-Port Huron — appears to counter Whitmer’s refusal to make statutory changes to the administrative board transfer.

    The Democratic and Republican legislative leaders met with Whitmer Tuesday morning for about 30 minutes.

    Asked if there was a chance that transfers could occur this week to undo some of the $625 million in shifts Whitmer’s administration made within the Legislature’s departmental budgets, Shirkey responded, “There are a lot of things in play.”

    This is a key week for budget negotiations at the Capitol.

    If state lawmakers and Whitmer can’t reach a deal this week to restore nearly $1 billion in budget vetoes, more of the cuts will be felt throughout Michigan, according to nonprofit groups and others impacted by the vetoes. The state House is currently scheduled to begin a three week vacation after this week.

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