“Punishment Cuts?” That’s an old term from the Pre-Prop A days of school millage votes. If a school district put out a millage vote and it failed, the next move would be to cut stuff that hurt. Inevitably varsity sports, art, music, and bus service got the axe. When people howled, the School Folks would cluck sympathetically, and put the tax proposal back up. This was part of the Millage-Go-Round political culture that led to passage of Prop A.
So, watching the unfolding train wreck that’s the Gretchen Witmer Administration, I guess it’s no surprise that she’s fallen back on that hoary playbook. Her first budget effort went right up to the September 30th hard deadline, and only missed the referee’s shutdown whistle by a sleight of hand. She signed the House-Senate budgets, but then line-item vetoed over a billion dollars, and used the State Administrative Board to shuffle another $625 million like a 3 Card Monte artist in Times Square.
There’s an interesting question here: “Does this slice-and-dice materially alter the signed budget?”
Another Q is: “If you’re going to sign our bills, then laugh like the Joker while you scissor them up, I guess we aren’t really partners?”
But, soaring above the procedural nitty-gritty is the nature of the vetoes themselves. “Punishment Cuts?” I report, you decide:
$35 million for per-pupil increases to charter schools, cut. $250,000 in reimbursements that send money to private schools for complying with state-mandates. $13.9 million in payments to rural hospitals. Almost $1.5 million in autism funding. $40 million to hospitals. Talk about punishment!
Gretchen Whitmer to Tim Allen: “You’re fired!” (she axed Pure Michigan, too).
Then there is the grab bag of programs to various outstate (read: Republican) districts. Did I mention $375 million of one-time funding for her signature issue, “…the Damn Roads?” Then she stood back and smiled: “Stop me before I shoot my foot some more!”
I think the response she expected was the same as Pre-Prop A schools: Angry outrage directed at the House and Senate by the affected groups, blaming them for forcing the “Good Governor” to more-in-sorrow-than-anger cut these wonderful things (for the common good, of course), then demanding that they submit to her will.
This might have worked some years ago. “Very Former Governor Jennifer Mudhen Granholm” played this all the time, as part of her never-ending opera. But she could rely on air cover from media coverage limited to a couple of dailies, a handful of broadcast outlets, and one Veteran Reporter. Today with social media, every State Rep. has his or her own real-time, direct news channel (for better or worse). But, the old “news gatekeeper” world is clearly gone.
So, any plan to slice and dice a slew of punishment cuts, then point the angry torch and pitchfork mob at “them Republicans” dashes against the rock of 24/7 news coverage reality. It was, indeed, the Governor who made the cuts, in effect holding them hostage for her misbegotten, stillborn “Road Tax,” which was dead on arrival months ago. You know, like, Francisco Franco dead.
Besides, the “Punishment Cuts” strategy has a flaw: In the end, the buck stops on the Gov’s desk. It is the Governor that gets the praise when stuff works, and the Governor that gets the blame when it doesn’t. Just ask Rick “Flint” Snyder.
So it’s Governor W that’s looking ham-handedly inept and maladroit. Again. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and Whitmer’s out-of-the-box, .45 cent-per-gallon tax on every gallon of gas fiasco drained a lot of the mystical (but very real) mojo from her Administration.
What now? What Governors slice, legislatures can replace. That is why the Good Lord made supplemental budget funding—negative and otherwise—votes. House and Senate Appropriation Committees should put every bit of that hide-the-pea switcheroo money back where it came from, and send it on. What’s worse than cutting road funding, hospital & autism money, then firing Tim Allen?
Doing it TWICE.
serves on the Board of the Regional Transportation Authority. He was elected to represent the 40th District in the Michigan House and was appointed Chairman of the all-important Appropriations Committee, responsible for the entire state budget. Prior to politics, Chuck was political columnist for the DETROIT NEWS, and has hosted talk shows for radio and television.