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Marquette County Board addresses state budget cuts

Gerald Corkin, chairman, Marquette County Board of Commissioners

MARQUETTE — Marquette County may feel the effects of a roughly $818,000 loss from its budget in the new year if the 2020 Michigan state budget impasse is not resolved.

At a previous meeting of the Marquette County Board of Commissioners, the board voted to send a letter to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asking her to “resolve all financial issues regarding funding for local government entities including all 83 counties in Michigan” in response to her line-item vetoes to the state budget totaling nearly $1 billion.

Whitmer responded to the letter on Nov. 19 and assured board Chairman Gerald Corkin that she is committed to finding a solution and remains ready to negotiate a supplemental budget “to fully fund Michiganders’ priorities,” the letter reads.

Whitmer noted that she and Lee Chatfield, speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives, began to negotiate a bipartisan agreement, but “Senate Republicans were unwilling to compromise and chose to adjourn without finishing their work.”

In a letter dated Oct. 29 to Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, Whitmer stated she is ready to negotiate a solution that includes “funding for core public health and safety needs within departments, rescinding certain administrative transfers, an agreement to not veto specific line items you might add. Additionally, I’ve proposed that predicated upon actual negotiated agreement on future budget measures, I’d refrain from exercising administrative transfers.”

Scott Erbisch, administrator, Marquette County

She pushed for the negotiation to take place soon, as there are only a few days in session before the new year.

“We all hold office for a prescribed number of years, and I will not spend my time here diminishing the Office of the Governor for me or any of my successors, Democrat or Republican,” she said.

The gridlock could be resolved in a matter of hours, Whitmer states in the letter, but if further negotiation is declined her administration “is prepared to move forward making the hard decisions necessitated by the budget as it now stands.”

If the gridlock continues, it could mean a total funding loss of more than $6.84 million for Upper Peninsula counties.

Without the reinstatement of those budget dollars, the county board would have to revisit its budget, which is set to go into effect as originally proposed on Jan. 1. The loss would most likely affect county services, said County Administrator Scott Erbisch.

Gretchen Whitmer

“We’d have to evaluate. We’d have to look at some of the programs and services that we currently fund and we might have to look at positions potentially as part of that reduction to have a balanced budget at that point,” Erbisch said. “But we don’t have anything definitive at this stage, but we started the dialogue to know what we might have to be doing.”

The impact the loss of funding could have on the community is concerning, but he is hopeful the budget will be resolved before the new year, he said.

“The county is very fiscally conservative and prudent to begin with. We’ve had limited area to make the changes, and any changes that we’re going to be doing will definitely have a negative effect on the services that we can provide in certain areas that may have cuts, whether it be a program strictly itself or the bodies that help support a program,” Erbisch said. “We may not be as responsive to the needs of the community as a result of these reductions, and that’s very concerning.”

Corkin agreed that the loss of funding would greatly impact all of the counties in the U.P., but found the governor’s response promising.

“It seems she’s certainly open to working with the House and Senate to come to a resolution on some of these items that were vetoed, so I view that as a positive,” Corkin said. “I was happy to see that she’s open and willing to work with the Legislature to support some supplemental bills to put money back into the budget. I think the House Majority (Leader) Chatfield is willing to work with this.”

The sticking point seems to lie in the Senate, he said.

“The Senate hasn’t expressed a willingness at this point to help solve it, but I think our House leader’s willing to work with the governor to get it solved, so the pressure will be on the Senate and the Senate leader to put the politics in their pocket and get something done,” Corkin added.

The solution is both sides being open to budget negotiations and a willingness to arrive at a compromise, he said, but he believes the matter will be resolved in a timely fashion.

“If common sense prevails it will be resolved, but if they want to play power politics in the Senate and not work to solve it, I suppose bad things could happen, but I have to believe common sense will prevail and we’ll get something worked out maybe before the new year or early into the new year,” Corkin said. “It just doesn’t make any sense when money is available that they don’t come to some compromises to put money back in, such as for the rural counties, the swamp taxes and PILT (payment in lieu of taxes). It amounts to about $600,000 for our county and most of the counties in the U.P. get really hammered. Even some of the smaller ones lose $500,000 to $600,000 on very small budgets. There’s a lot of counties in the U.P. who will be hurt percentage-wise a lot worse than Marquette County. It’s important the Legislature and the governor work out a compromise here and solve these problems for the benefit of all the people in Michigan.”

Trinity Carey can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.