by Bruce Walker
Michigan business and political leaders are pondering exactly why Gov. Gretchen Whitmer chose to veto Tuesday a bipartisan effort to allocate $220 million for Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.
Although the governor signed the bipartisan relief bill, she exercised a line-time veto of a portion of the bill that would have appropriated $220 million to the UITF.
“First, Governor Whitmer put people out of work with her shutdown orders,” Michigan Republican Party Chairman Laura Cox said in a statement.
“Then, through her administration’s incompetence, it became almost impossible for out-of-work Michiganders to receive unemployment benefits,” Cox continued.
The UITF is funded by Michigan businesses with three or more employees. According to the Washington-based Tax Foundation, every state, including the District of Columbia, manage federal-state programs to compensate unemployed workers. These programs are funded by levies paid by businesses with three or more employees.
Whitmer’s news release characterized the relief as “giveaway of taxpayer money to the employer-owned” fund. Additionally, she called the UITF relief as “tax breaks for big businesses.”
These comments and others made by the governor at her Tuesday news conference also drew the ire of Cox.
“Now, Whitmer has vetoed extending aid to workers even though her draconian shutdowns continue,” Cox said. “Clearly, the ‘science’ Whitmer is following doesn’t include basic economics, and Michigan families are paying the price.”
Jimmy Greene, Association of Builders and Contractors of Greater Michigan Chapter president and CEO, called Whitmer’s maneuver a “bait and switch” in a phone conversation with The Center Square.
“Gov. Whitmer has stated at the podium time and time again since last October to request the Legislature draft a relief package that she could sign,” Greene said. “When the Legislature, led by the efforts of [Republican Sen. Jim] Stamas delivered it to her, she cuts out the meat.”
Greene continued: “It seems spiteful, and it just doesn’t make sense. She’s sending construction workers back to the unemployment line,” he said.
“The governor is shutting down Line 5, which is costing Michigan more construction jobs,” Greene continued, citing the proposed $500 million construction of a tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac, which Whitmer’s administration is attempting to block.
“She’s costing the state high-paying jobs and not funding unemployment at the same time,” Greene said.
Rich Studley, president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, concurred with Cox and Greene.
“The Michigan Chamber of Commerce and other business groups spent a lot of time and effort during the lame-duck session working to negotiate a fair compromise to extend unemployment benefits,” Studley told The Center Square.
The business community and legislators worked together in a spirit of cooperation to mitigate the negative impact on unemployed workers and struggling businesses as a result of shutdown orders emanating from both the governor’s office and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Studley said.
According to Studley, many of Whitmer’s comments such as calling the proposed UITF relief a tax break for big business were “false and misleading” as well as “derogatory and unfair.”
He added the governor is “trying to shift the burden of paying for her mistakes by saddling employers with the costs of her stay-at-home and shutdown orders. It’s mean-spirited.”
The governor is focusing on expanding government dependency by keeping businesses struggling and closed, Studley said.
Studley also asserted the UITF was $4 billion in the black only nine months ago, but burned through most of that amount since Whitmer’s and MDHHS-enforced closures.
He also noted the widespread fraud alleged to have been committed by Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency claims examiner Jermaine Rose and accomplice Serenity Poynter. The pair is accused of defrauding the UIA out of $1.1 million in unemployment insurance money.
Last July, UIA contract employee Brandi Hawkins was charged with an attempt to bilk the UIA out of $2 million.
UIA Director Steve Gray abruptly resigned in November without explanation.
“Gov. Whitmer is entirely responsible for this mess,” Studley said, citing UIA mismanagement and malfeasance as well as the governor’s refusal to loosen her administration’s pandemic restrictions.
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Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.