by Scott McClallen
Lawmakers are crafting the next budget, but Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office is trying to hide accountability measures while boosting spending.
In 2018, Whitmer made a transparency pledge while running for office. Now, in her second term, her office is trying to hinder transparency efforts in the next budget process.
Whitmer stated in 2018: “My Michigan Sunshine Plan will rewrite the rules in Lansing to work for regular families by making state government more open, transparent and accountable to Michigan taxpayers.” She added: “It’s time to get it done so we can build a better Michigan for everyone, infuse integrity in governance and earn back public confidence.”
In House Bill 4249, the budget for the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, the executive office opposed a requirement that EGLE must report specific expenditures on the internet on a searchable website.
The Senate proposal suggests spending $6.6 million to hire 44 new permanent full-time employees.
The executive office also opposed a requirement that EGLE maintain on a publicly accessible website a department scorecard with key metrics concerning the department’s performance. The House retained this requirement.
The executive and House want to delete a requirement to estimate annual appropriations for legacy costs, including pension-related legacy costs and health care-related legacy costs.
Whitmer’s office want to delete a requirement that the department must report details of severance pay for certain departmental employees. The House revises to remove the internet posting requirement.
Whitmer’s office hasn’t responded to a request for comment about why her office opposes these requirements.
In 2021, reporters exposed Whitmer’s office spending nearly $253,000 on three secret, taxpayer-funded severance packages. Specifically, $85,000 flowed to former Unemployment Insurance Agency Director Gray after he resigned Nov. 5 after months of record jobless claims.
State Rep. Sarah Lightner, R-Springport, said Democrats stripped some transparency requirements.
“The Democrats voted down program reports and transparency practices within numerous budgets,” Lightner said in a statement. “For example, the budget for the Unemployment Insurance Agency has no checks and balances to ensure federal dollars provided to the UIA are spent properly. Guard rails have been eliminated, enabling the UIA director to spend taxpayer dollars ‘willy nilly’ without any oversight from the Legislature.”
Lightner said a May 19 revenue estimating conference will provide lawmakers with more budget information.
State Rep. Ken Borton, R-Gaylord, who sits on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, tried to redirect $110 million from one-time projects including $500 subsidies for electric bikes and drone projects to fixing the roads, but was shut down by Democrats in the majority.
“It’s important for our state budget to reflect the needs of Michiganders, not personal pet projects,” Borton said in a Monday statement. “Finding long-term solutions to fix our roads and bridges is what folks want their elected officials to focus on. I hear it from people in my district every day, and I’m proud to bring their voice to the table. That’s why I introduced a plan to shift $110.5 million in funding from many of the current one-time projects and put it into our state’s bridge bundling initiative, which ensures public safety for generations to come. It’s imperative we take care of our crumbling infrastructure instead of wasting hard-earned taxpayer dollars on inessential, costly experiments.”
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org.
Photo “Gretchen Whitmer” by Gretchen Whitmer. Background Photo “Michigan Capitol” by San906. CC0 1.0.