LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican legislative leaders on Thursday announced the framework of an agreement to open budget negotiations, give lawmakers input into future pandemic restrictions and drop potentially longer-lasting COVID-19 workplace regulations.
The deal may finally ease longstanding tensions in the Capitol that existed even before the Democratic governor first began issuing sweeping orders to control the coronavirus more than a year ago.
GOP lawmakers will include Whitmer's budget director in talks about the next state spending plan and how to spend a massive influx of billions of federal relief aid, following their monthslong attempts to tie virus funding to bills that would curb her powers. The governor's administration will withdraw permanent pandemic workplace safety rules that could have taken effect in the fall after emergency rules expire. State officials already had planned to soon revise the temporary regulations to lift a remote work requirement.
The announcement came hours after Whitmer announced that outdoor capacity limits will be lifted on June 1 and indoor caps will be rescinded on July 1, when a broad mask and gatherings orders also will end. Some restrictions may remain.
Whitmer said she agreed to talk about formalizing legislative input on epidemic orders. House Speaker Jason Wentworth said they will work on a plan to give lawmakers a permanent role in future orders. Specifics had not been ironed out.
"I look forward to working with the Legislature to invest the billions in federal resources sent to us by both the Trump and Biden administrations and pass a budget that makes lasting investments in our shared priorities,” the governor said in a statement.
"I’ve consistently said I believe the budget process is better with the governor involved, and the state’s pandemic management is better with the Legislature involved,” Wentworth, of Farwell, said in a statement. “The critical issues facing our state are simply too big and are hurting too many people for us to waste any more time.”
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, of Clarklake, called Whitmer's decision to pull back “heavy-handed” workplace rules “a good faith gesture that she is willing to work with the Legislature.”
Billions in nondiscretionary federal coronavirus aid from a package enacted in December has gone unallocated, even as the governor and Legislature start debating how to spend an additional $6.5 billion in discretionary COVID-19 funding that was passed in March.
Fiscal experts will meet Friday to settle on updated state revenue projections needed to finalize the 2021-22 budget as early as June. Michigan is expected to receive billions more than expected due to substantial federal aid — such as stimulus checks and supplemental unemployment benefits — that is helping to boost the economy.
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