Whitmer opposed to limits on her COVID-19 authority in Republican spending plan

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer holds a press conference on COVID-19.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer holds a press conference on COVID-19.(source: State of Michigan)
Published: Feb. 9, 2021 at 2:33 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) - Battle lines are being drawn over how Michigan will spend its share of federal funding for the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer released a $5.6 billion plan in January that calls for spending all of the federal funds right away. She believes that approach is necessary to keep Michigan atop the list for COVID-19 vaccine and supply shipments.

House Democrats unveiled a similar $5 billion spending plan last week.

House Republicans passed a $3.5 billion plan last week that calls for a measured approach to spending federal funds and a requirement for Whitmer’s administration to give up executive authority to close schools. That would transfer to local health departments around the state.

Senate Republicans released a $2 billion plan on Tuesday that calls for immediate funding to boost some of Whitmer’s programs and holding some funds in reserve.

During a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Whitmer said she has regular talks with Republican legislative leaders. But formal negotiations over how to spend federal COVID-19 funds have not started.

“That hasn’t really happened in any meaningful way at this juncture,” she said.

Whitmer opposes any efforts to curtail emergency powers of the executive branch of government included in the House plan. She said the Michigan Constitution provides authority for governors to act in emergencies and she needs to retain those powers in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Ultimately, the buck will stop with the governor. And I will be judged by the voters when I run for re-election,” Whitmer said.

She believes the federal legislation earmarking COVID-19 funding to Michigan and the other states includes language giving state legislatures authority to oversee how the money is spent. Whitmer called on Republicans to pass a spending plan quickly so the money doesn’t sit idle while COVID-19 needs continue across the state.

“It’s not about anything other than trying to meeting the needs of the people, the businesses and the health of the public,” she said.

Whitmer is concerned that suppliers of crucial COVID-19 resources could move Michigan down the priority list if they see issues with the state’s ability to pay. She believes that could lead to delays in vaccinating the public against COVID-19, which is crucial to ending the coronavirus pandemic and its associated restrictions.

“We can’t play around with this money. We’ve got to get it deployed and we’ve got to keep Michigan at the top of those supply lists,” Whitmer said.

Republican House Speaker Jason Wentworth issued the following statement Tuesday afternoon:

“I’m glad the governor is finally coming around to what we’ve been saying all along: in-class learning can happen safely, which is why it’s a primary focus of our budget. Keeping students out of the classroom has been most harmful to our children who can least afford it. Parents are asking for help. We took action to get our youth back in the classroom and I’m glad the governor now agrees.

Despite what the governor said, our plan simply refuses to throw all the money in at once. It’s not what we do in our households and it’s not what we’re going to do with hard-earned taxpayer dollars. We’re going to be careful, responsible, and accountable.

Our plan addresses all needs – from getting people vaccinated to opening schools to helping suffering businesses and families. But it does it right and holds the governor to a higher standard to fix the problems we all have seen.”

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