OPINION: Finley: State too messed up to spend COVID windfall

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Nolan Finley, The Detroit News
·3 min read
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Apr. 8—Spending other people's money is the one thing politicians can usually agree on.

But the governing dysfunction is so great in Michigan that our political leaders can't even come together to spend billions of dollars showered on the state by the federal government.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Republican-led state Legislature are still stubbornly dug in on allocating $2 billion in COVID-19 relief money that arrived from Washington in December.

Another $5.6 billion is on its way to Lansing from the package Congress just approved. It likely faces the same fate when it arrives.

Twice lawmakers have sent Whitmer bills to spend $652 million of the original money to aid small businesses, help private schools, shore up the unemployment fund and support summer learning programs.

None of those funds were tied to revoking the governor's emergency powers.

Still, she vetoed them both times, saying they weren't negotiated with her office and don't fully reflect her priorities.

The rest of the $2 billion received in December is being held hostage by lawmakers who are demanding it be linked to a revamping of Whitmer's unilateral emergency powers.

They want some clear limits on how those powers are used and for how long. It's a reasonable expectation. But unfortunately, those requirements are not built into the state's emergency law and Whitmer is in no mood to agree to add them now.

Something's got to break before the next big treasure chest of cash arrives from Washington.

Obviously the governor and GOP legislative leaders are incapable of coming to an agreement on their own. Whitmer and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey detest one another, and rarely speak.

Third-party leadership must step in and broker a compromise.

That usually means the business community. But labor will also likely have to get involved if anything is going to move.

Those who helped elect these folks have to apply some pressure on them to work together.

Whitmer has found the COVID-19 emergency perfectly suited to her governing style. She loathed the idea of working collaboratively with the Republican leaders, and the emergency powers they approved have allowed her to almost completely ignore them.

She's employed every possible stunt to avoid the checks and balances the Legislature is supposed to provide.

The frustration of lawmakers is understandable. Sitting on money Whitmer wants to spend is the only tool they have to reclaim some of the power she's stripped from them.

But the reality remains that the people of Michigan will suffer if the Legislature and governor remain at such intractable loggerheads.

Bringing them together is only going to get harder the closer we get to the 2022 election.

Michigan taxpayers are not going be amused watching their elected officials scarp and squabble while money intended to help them rebound from the damage of the pandemic gathers dust in the state Treasury.

There must be a compromise. And it looks like it will take outside mediators to make it happen.

Twitter: @NolanFinleyDN

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