I have taken the last week to review the 147 line-item vetoes and nearly $1 billion in money the governor stripped away from programs funded by the Michigan Legislature, and my dismay has grown deeper and deeper with each passing day.
Gov. Whitmer says she targeted political opponents with these cuts in an attempt to get her gas tax increase approved. But our governor’s actions aren’t just hurting her political opponents. Her vetoes hurt families all throughout Michigan, and people in the Upper Peninsula will suffer the most. Here are a few examples:
- The governor is taking away money local governments need to provide a wide range of public services people rely on every day. Many communities receive what’s known as “payment in lieu of taxes” from the state. These payments replace revenue lost on tax-exempt land owned by the state, including public-owned property controlled by the Department of Natural Resources. As you can imagine, PILT money makes up quite a bit of funding for some local governments. PILT funding amounts to $345,167 for communities in Baraga County, $77,781 in Gogebic County, $202,346 in Houghton County, $374,275 in Iron County, $203,350 in Keweenaw County and $378,833 in Ontonagon County.
- The governor’s actions are going to reduce the number of police patrolling our communities. She eliminated $13 million county sheriffs use to hire deputies to patrol secondary roads. She cut nearly $15 million from a statewide fund that reimburses county jails for holding state prisoners – money the state committed to paying, and that many communities have come to rely on for law enforcement services. These cuts hurt rural Michigan communities like ours the most.
- The governor rejected funding for programs to help hospitals in rural areas, including $34.3 million in funding for Medicaid reimbursement at critical access hospitals like Baraga County Memorial Hospital and the Aspirus hospitals in Iron River, Ironwood, Calumet Township and Ontonagon.
- The governor eliminated all $7 million in funding to help small, isolated school districts offset the higher costs they have for transporting students. This means nearly every school district in the Upper Peninsula will receive $51 less per student this year.
- Her budget vetoes will make it harder for military veterans to get services they have earned and deserve. She eliminated $4 million for the County Veteran Services Fund that helps connect veterans to the services they need in their local communities. She eliminated $250,000 for the Buddy to Buddy program that gives veterans struggling with PTSD or depression a person to call regularly for support.
- The governor is leaving local counties on the hook for retirement debt that should be the state’s responsibility. She removed $971,000 in funding that had been set aside to cover retirement debt left over from the Western Upper Peninsula Manpower Consortium.
Perhaps the most confusing part of this whole situation is that many of the programs she cut perform essential services that have always had wide support from legislators on both sides of the aisle. The budget plan approved by the Legislature funded all these programs and included increases for classrooms and road repairs – all without a tax increase.
It’s wrong for the governor to try to use people relying on critical programs as bargaining chips in her misguided attempt to raise our gas tax.
People are upset, and I’m listening. That’s why I helped introduce a bipartisan plan this week to restore funding for many of these services. I’m committed to working together with legislators on both sides of the aisle to undo the damage done by the governor’s cuts. I hope the governor will put her political games aside and join us.
State Rep. Greg Markkanen, of Hancock, is serving his first term in the Michigan House representing residents of Baraga, Gogebic, Houghton, Iron, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties, as well as Powell and Ishpeming townships in Marquette County. He previously taught high school civics, history and geography for Baraga Area Schools and served on the Hancock City Council.