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COVID, economic recovery focus of Whitmer budget

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Governor Gretchen Whitmer unveiled her $67.1 billion proposed budget Thursday and began the job of selling her plan to the Legislature’s Republican leaders.

The relationship between the Democratic governor and GOP leaders has hovered between frosty and hostile, with fights over the state’s COVID-19 response often at the center.

The governor said settling disagreements on return-to-school plans, helping businesses, and vaccine distribution is critical as the response moves from crisis management to recovery.“In the face of historic, colliding crises, we must do more and we must be better,” she said during a Zoom call with reporters. “This budget is a step in the right direction.”

The governor’s plan relies heavily on one-time funds that won’t be available if programs are to be continued in future years. For example, that includes a program to help low-income families with the costs of child care or tuition to help COVID-19 frontline workers upgrade their skills.

The new budget year begins October 1. But Whitmer said it’s crucial for the Legislature to move before then to allocate federal COVID response funds that are already earmarked for Michigan.

Republicans have withheld blanket approval for that spending in an effort to get Whitmer to bargain. The governor said that’s counterproductive.

“We’ve got to get our kids back in school,” Whitmer said. “We’ve got to make sure that when they get back in school, they’re safe, and their teachers and the support staff are, as well. We’ve got to help small businesses that are struggling. One of the most important things we’ve got to do is build out our vaccine response and our COVID testing.”

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Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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