Revenue gutted, Whitmer calls on feds for budget aid

Coronavirus

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — With Michigan facing massive budget shortfalls for both this fiscal year and next, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday urged the federal government to come through with aid.

“States like Michigan, all across this country, are grappling with the same things,” Whitmer said at an afternoon briefing, adding that the state needs more resources and flexibility.

She said the federal CARES Act relief package doesn’t currently allow states to use federal aid to fill holes in the budget caused by the virus’ economic impact and called on Congress to rectify that quickly.

In Michigan, the combined revenue losses for both fiscal years is estimated to be around $6.2 billion. The general fund budget for one year is about $10 billion.

“I want to be clear: There are no easy solutions here. There will be hard choices,” Whitmer said of balancing the budget, but promised she was ready to work with the Legislature to deal with the problem and to lobby the federal government for support.

“We can’t do it on our own. We need a partner in the federal government,” she continued. “I am hopeful that our federal partners across the aisle in Washington, D.C., will take action to give us the support that Michigan and all of states in our country need right now.”

>>Slides from briefing

Joining the governor at the briefing, State Budget Director Chris Kolb said that though his office is already reviewing everything, there’s not much fat to cut from the about $10 billion general fund and that more than 80% of the general and school aid funds supports essential services and programs.

“The fact of the matter is department budgets are already skinny and there’s simply no way to cut our way out of this just by looking at state budgets,” Kolb said, also noting the general fund hasn’t changed for about two decades.

Kolb said another revenue conference has been scheduled for this summer, after the state has a few more months of tax collection on which to base its estimates. That, as well as the fact that the state still needs to know what the federal government is going to do, means this year’s budget won’t be done by a July 1 deadline.

The state has a $1.2 billion rainy day fund, but that’s not enough to resolve its budget woes. Kolb said the problems can’t be resolved without aid from the feds.

“This is a 50-state problem,” he said. “This is as bad (as), if not worse than, the Great Recession. And the only way we made it through that recession was with direct support from the federal government. We need them to step up again now.”

WHITMER’S PRIORITIES

Whitmer said as the state government works out a budget under challenging circumstances, she would be prioritizing:

  • Education, emphasizing literacy,
  • Police and fire departments and local communities, including hazard pay for first rseponders, extended unemployment benefits and COVID-19 safety measures,
  • Vaccine research at Michigan universities,
  • Her program to fix the roads using bonds,
  • Paid time off for families.

She said her policy agenda moving forward will focus on:

  • Health care access,
  • Child care,
  • The Future for Frontliners initiative she designed to pay for continuing education for people who kept working during the pandemic like health care workers, first responders and grocery store clerks.
  • Returning to school safely,
  • Support for small businesses,
  • Consumer protections.

“I know we have shared priorities when it comes to protecting the people of our state,” Whitmer said, referring to the Republicans who lead the state Legislature. “And the vast majority of these issues are not partisan in nature. They’re crucial to ensure important services for everyone in this state. I’m ready to work with everyone who wants to help fix problems.”

But the Democratic governor’s relationship with Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, has always been dicey and has been especially bad lately as he disagreed with how she has handled the coronavirus response — largely moving without the Legislature — and most recently claimed she lied about her husband’s call to a northern Michigan dock regarding the family boat.

Asked how she was going to repair that relationship, Whitmer said Shirkey should have reached out to her if he had concerns about the boat call and what happened after it.

“I really believe what Michelle Obama said, which is, ‘When they go low, we go high.’ And so I’m not going to go allegation for allegation,” Whitmer said. “He called me names earlier on. You know what I did? I sent him a cake. That’s what going high looks like. I’m going to keep doing that in hopes that eventually, his emotions will stop getting the better of him and he’ll come back to the table and start to work with me to really make sure that we’ve got a great agenda that supports the economic rebound we all want to see.”

She said she was encouraged by Shirkey’s promise to “arm wrestle” with the feds for education funding.

Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, has asked the governor’s office to create a new budget proposal taking into account the revenue shortfall.

DAILY CASE AND DEATH UPDATE

The state said Thursday that another 406 confirmed cases of the virus brought the total since the outbreak began in March to 56,014.

Thirty-eight more deaths were recorded for a total of 5,372. Seventeen of the most recent deaths were discovered in a check of death certificates to find any that had not been reported.

In Wayne County, where the outbreak has been the worst, there have been 20,059 cases (60 more than the day prior) and 2,410 deaths (four more). Oakland County has had 8,281 cases and 971 deaths. Macomb County has had 6,586 cases and 787 deaths.

Within the Michigan Department of Corrections, where testing of every inmate was completed last week, there have been 3,604 cases, 56 more than recorded the day before. One more inmate died for a total of 65.

In Genesee County, where Flint is, there have been 1,983 cases and 249 deaths.

There were three more deaths in Kent County, bringing the total to 79. An additional 86 cases were confirmed for a total of 3,540.

These West Michigan counties also saw additional deaths:

  • Ionia County: One more death; four total. 147 total confirmed cases.
  • Kalamazoo County: Three more deaths; 54 total. 820 total confirmed cases.
  • Muskegon County: Three more deaths; 36 total. 619 total confirmed cases.

“We continue to see reductions in new cases in all regions across the state,” the state’s chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said at the Thursday briefing with the governor, though she noted different regions are seeing different spread.

“The northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula continue to see low rates of cases and the rate of cases remains relatively unchanged. Southeast Michigan has seen reductions in cases for seven weeks,” she said. “Western Michigan has seen reduction in case rates for the past week and the local health departments in that area of the state are diligently working to track any new cases and outbreaks.”

>>Online: MIStartMap.info for regional risk breakdown

If things keep looking good, Khaldun said, we can keep moving forward with reopening more regions and economic sectors. But she also continued to stress that the risk of the disease has not vanished and continued reiterated people to follow social distancing guidelines, wear masks and wash their hands frequently.

“We cannot let down our guard,” she warned.

TESTING AND CONTACT TRACING

On Tuesday, the most recent day for which state data is available, labs in Michigan tested 10,152 samples for coronavirus and 3.5% of those tests were positive. In the region of the state that includes Grand Rapids, 1,541 samples were tested and 3.6% were positive. In the region that includes Kalamazoo and Battle Creek, 448 tests were run and 4.2% were positive.

The state is now testing an average of 14,400 samples daily, about 700 more daily than the previous week, Khaldun said. The state is still working to reach its goal of 15,000 tests daily and hopes to later expand that to 30,000 daily.

Earlier this week, she and Whitmer announced the broadening of the criteria for who can get tested for COVID-19 and that you no longer need an order from a doctor.

“The overwhelming majority of Michiganders can now get a test,” Khaldun said.

>>Online: Where to get tested

Khaldun said the state is also ramping up contact tracing, with more than 500 volunteers trained to reach out to people who have tested positive, find their close contacts and tell those people to isolate themselves.

She urged people to take call from the state or local health department in case it is a tracer, saying contacts should get a call within about 24 hours of someone testing positive for the virus.

Khaldun also had a word of caution to help people look out for scammers, saying contact tracers would not ask for personal information like Social Security or credit card numbers.

  

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