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State government isn’t going to shut down

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer notified state employees this week that 38,000 state employees could be placed on a temporary lay-off if state government is forced to shut down Oct. 1 for lack of a 2020 budget.

Nobody could buy Michigan lottery tickets. Retail stores couldn’t get their hard alcohol purchases approved by the Liquor Control Commission. Secretary of state offices wouldn’t open. State road projects and welcome centers would freeze.

There’d be no student financial aid checks. Revenue checks to local government or schools wouldn’t go out on schedule.

The prisons, State Police, bridges and Child Protective Service workers would still be running, but that’s about it.

Will state government really shut down? By all appearances, yes. In reality, no.

Whitmer is essentially daring Republican lawmakers to give her budgets she hasn’t OK'd. As of today, Republican lawmakers are calling the Democratic governor’s bluff.

They’re slated to give her a budget Sept. 24. If she wants to veto it and shut down government, it’s on her, as far as the GOP is concerned.

In the meantime, Whitmer and legislative leaders have shadowboxed. On Tuesday, Whitmer wrote legislative leaders to send her a completed budget before enjoying “Mackinac Island with your fellow partisans” at “your weekend getaway” — the Michigan Republican Party’s biennial leadership conference this weekend.

She said she’d like to have the budget at least two weeks before Sept. 30 so her administration officials can review the hundreds of pages, line items and provisions.

“I am writing to respectfully ask that prior to socializing with Mike Pence, Betsy DeVos, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Haley Barbour, you compete all of the necessary work to get your budgets passed and sent to me with time for my team and me to review them and get them signed by Sept. 30,” she wrote.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey responded with, “She was kind enough to send us an advance copy before making it public … yawn.”

Excuse Shirkey for being bored with the back-and-forth. After months of budget talks with “my” governor and House Speaker Lee Chatfield, they haven’t agreed to squat.

One of their last meetings punctuated why. Whitmer wants to raise gasoline taxes 45 cents a gallon over 18 months to generate $2.5 billion to pay for more road construction and better fund public schools.

Shirkey is willing to raise the gas tax by 10 cents or so, but he’d rather free up about $800 million in road-funding money by stretching out teacher pension payments further into the future. That frees up money without raising taxes.

But Whitmer would rather sink any freed-up money into public schools. Between K-12 schools, higher education and community colleges, there haven’t been many substantial increases in the last 17 years.

She doesn’t want to use free up money as backfill for a road funding tax shift scheme that Chatfield has put up.

So at this closed-down meeting, Whitmer, Shirkey and Chatfield sat around the table and reportedly just looked at each other. Nobody was willing to budge. Nothing got done. Again.

But keep in mind the following. Nobody has actively threatened to shut down government.

Unlike 2007, a conservative Republican Senate isn’t being pushed into a corner to raise taxes in order for the state to have the money for government to run.

In 2019 the government has enough money to operate.

Whitmer’s $60.2 billion budget is only 1.4% bigger than the $59.3 billion the Senate passed. They’re not far apart. Whatever the House and Senate send her next week will include much of her March proposal.

Whitmer wanted a tax increase to improve roads and schools. She isn’t going to use the livelihood of 38,000 state employees as leverage for the GOP to raise taxes. She just isn’t. Outside of the tumult, it would cause mostly union families unnecessarily, there’s other reasons.

Her national reputation is on the rise. She beat President Donald Trump by a week in proposing a ban on flavored e-cigarettes. She’s being mentioned by some pundits as a potential Democratic running mate.

And while Whitmer said Monday she doesn’t want to be vice president, if Joe Biden calls on April 16, 2020, after sewing up the nomination and asks her to be his vice presidential nominee, how could she possibly say no?

A younger, charismatic female attorney and elected official from a swing Midwestern state? If she’s told she gives Democrats a better shot at preventing a Donald Trump second term? It’s an easy decision.

Yes, it appears Whitmer is rhetorically chastising Republicans for steamrolling her in budget discussions right now, but she may still have another trick up her sleeve.

(Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS is at melinnky@gmail.com.)

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