HAVLICEK: Whitmer veto jeopardizes benefits, harms businesses

Published 8:00 am Saturday, January 16, 2021

On Dec. 21, the Michigan Legislature passed a bipartisan COVID-19 relief bill, which provided help for small businesses, support for frontline workers and extended unemployment benefits for Michiganders struggling without work.

Shortly thereafter, Gov. Whitmer line-item vetoed $359 million of the bill’s $465 million in relief funding. That’s more than 75 percent of what lawmakers had approved.

We found these vetoes unacceptable for multiple reasons, but one in particular was an outright slap-in-the-face to every business and individual who has struggled as a direct result of her administration’s restrictions. Here’s why.

According to a recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, Michigan had the highest percentage (32.04 percent) of state mandated small business closures in the country in 2020. This also resulted in one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates, draining our state’s employer-supported Unemployment Trust Fund by almost $4 billion since the start of the pandemic.

With the latest shutdown still ongoing, the state had to once again extend expanded unemployment benefits through the end of March. To avoid triggering a tax increase on small businesses, the legislature appropriated $220 million into the UTF to cover the costs of the extension. Their rationale was simple: the government forced these layoffs for the ‘public good’ so the government should pay for it.

Yet, prominent among the governor’s vetoes was the elimination of that $220 million. As a result, small employers all over the state will see significant tax hikes in the coming years as funds in the state’s UTF continue to diminish at an unprecedented rate.

To add further insult to injury, our governor called this appropriation a “giveaway of taxpayer money” to employers. In reality, this funding would have gone directly into the pockets of workers who found themselves unemployed as a result of the Governor’s open-ended shutdowns. I say would have because her action has now jeopardized the extended unemployment assistance these out-of-work individuals desperately need.

Enough is enough. It is unacceptable to create policies that force individuals out of their jobs and then veto funds that would help them. The Legislature should put another bill on her desk restoring the $220 million, and the governor should sign it. This would help struggling unemployed workers receive extra benefits at no cost to struggling employers – a win-win.

The true win, however, would be realizing government will never have the capacity to fix the financial damage done to businesses or the unemployed over the past year. So instead of creating government programs and appropriating government funds to fix the problem we are in, we should fix the government policy that created it.

The surge in cases we saw last Fall will likely not be the last, but our strategy for dealing with the next one must change. We must allow businesses to stay open in accordance with CDC guidelines. We must give them a fighting chance to recover or they never will.

In 2020, Michigan was number one in state mandated business closures.

Michigan cannot afford to be number one again.