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Whitmer again vetoes virus aid after no legislative deal

Governor Gretchen Whitmer, February 24, 2021 photo
Michigan Office of the Governor
Associated Press

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday again vetoed about $652 million in proposed COVID-19 relief spending after the Michigan Legislature passed it without negotiating with her administration.

Majority Republicans reapproved the funding following the Democratic governor’s first veto weeks ago during a fight over an attempt to link federal funds to her agreeing to cede certain pandemic powers solely to local health departments.

One bill proposed $405 million in state-funded business relief and a $150 million deposit into the unemployment insurance fund. Another would have given $87 million in federal funds to private schools and $10 million to reimburse parents for summer school expenses.

In a letter to lawmakers, Whitmer said she vetoed the measures because they primarily included spending she previously rejected.

“I remain ready and willing to negotiate regarding the allocation of the more than $2 billion in federal money now sitting idle in the Michigan treasury,” she wrote. “That’s money that could be immediately put to work supporting our kids, families, and small business.”

GOP legislators had urged the governor to approve the spending because it was not tied to bills that would have prevented her administration from closing schools and prohibiting sports, or required the governor to get legislative approval to extend state coronavirus restrictions.

“The Legislature gave her a second chance to do the right thing, but she is again turning her back on school kids, families, job providers and the workers who depend on them for a living,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Thomas Albert of Lowell.

The vetoes were expected, both because of the lack of negotiation and policy differences.

Budget director Dave Massaron said this month that the administration wants to give additional aid to businesses, but that Republicans’ proposed property tax relief program has flaws.

It was the third time Whitmer vetoed putting state money into the employer-funded unemployment fund. Her office has said the money should not be used “to give tax breaks to big businesses,” while advocates of the deposit say pandemic-afflicted businesses and laid-off workers need help.

The funding for nonpublic schools ultimately is expected to be released when a deal is reached. About $840 million for public schools also is on hold. Both pots were approved by Congress and then-President Donald Trump in December.