Whitmer vetoes $10M for exonerees, prefers in budget instead
By DAVID EGGERT
LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued her first line-item veto Friday, nixing $10 million that would have shored up a nearly depleted state fund that compensates wrongfully convicted inmates.
She said she supports the funding but stripped it to adhere to her intent to reject spending in policy bills to uphold voters’ referendum rights. Under a Michigan Supreme Court ruling, laws with any spending in them are immune from referendum.
“While this item veto underscores my strong support for referendum rights, it should not be construed as a lack of support for compensation for citizens wrongfully imprisoned,” the Democrat wrote to lawmakers. “I would support an appropriation of money to the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Fund included in a supplemental appropriations bill or a general appropriations bill.”
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Steve Johnson of Wayland, blasted Whitmer’s “disgraceful” decision while noting the measure cleared the GOP-led Legislature with unanimous, bipartisan support. He accused her of “playing politics” to push for other spending she wants included in budget legislation for this fiscal year.
He said it made sense to pair the $10 million for the fund with changes such as requiring the state attorney general to issue quarterly reports showing payouts and the account balance. The non-spending provisions were enacted into law with her signature.
“Are we really concerned about a referendum on the attorney general sending a notice that the fund is bankrupt?” Johnson said of Whitmer. “That’s insanity and she knows that.”
The account, created under a 2016 law that compensates exonerees $50,000 for each year spent in a state prison, is projected to have a likely shortfall in the current fiscal year ending Sept. 30. The state has put $6.5 million in the fund to date. Outstanding claims total about $24 million.
Whitmer has proposed adding $20 million to the fund, half this fiscal year and half in the budget that starts in October.