Whitmer’s budget turns heads in election year

There is one word that comes to mind for some lawmakers when reviewing Whitmer’s budget proposal. And that word is “Damn.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is asking state lawmakers to significantly boost state spending and approve some targeted tax cuts. That’s amid a $7 billion budget surplus.

As part of the weekly series MichMash, Jake Neher and Cheyna Roth talk with MLive state politics reporter Lauren Gibbons about what’s in the budget proposal and why it’s making waves.

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There is one word that comes to mind for some lawmakers when reviewing Whitmer’s budget proposal. And that’s “Damn.”

“That is a very popular word in state government, ‘Fix the damn roads,’” says Gibbons. “But then Senator Jim Stamas, from Midland, he’s the Senate Appropriations Chair, his first reaction was, ‘All I’ve got to say is damn,’ because this is a big, big budget.”

Whitmer is proposing a $74.1 billion budget – 10% larger than last year’s budget. A big part of the increase stems from the influx of major pandemic funds. But there’s also an unusual surplus due to the pandemic, pandemic spending and the federal COVID-19 funds.

“This isn’t necessarily new,” Gibbons says. “Michigan officials have had a lot of excess money come in. And so far, it’s taken some time for the Democratic administration and the Republican majority Legislature to really come to agreement on how to use this money, because this is a lot of money … This is her plan to spend it.”

Related: Gov. Whitmer’s proposed budget, explained

Some of the big winners in Whitmer’s proposal include teachers. There’s a lot of money proposed for retention bonuses for teachers and other support staff at schools to back year after years. There are also investments in mental health for schools and, overall, more money per student.

Whitmer’s proposal also puts more money toward frontline workers with bonuses for some people who filled essential jobs during the pandemic. Colleges and universities would also see a bump. And of course, coming back to the word “damn” again, Whitmer’s proposed budget includes a little over a billion dollars in increase to the transportation budget for roads and other infrastructure.

“A lot of the focus of the administration is to prioritize some of these really, economically critical projects, high traffic, and also just addressing some of the major infrastructural issues that Michiganders have faced of late,” Gibbons says.

“We saw a lot of flooding on the freeways last year,” she notes. “A lot of environmental infrastructure needs to be addressed throughout the state, and water infrastructure. So there’s a lot of money on the table that would go towards some of these projects.”

More from MichMash:

Why Whitmer’s call for in-person school matters

Political storylines to watch this year in Michigan

Three initiatives could start gathering signatures soon

The Biggest Political Blunders of 2021 in Michigan

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  • Jake Neher
    Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
  • Cheyna Roth
    Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.