Apr 17, 2024 - News

Republicans defend Michigan auditor general against budget cut

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in Detroit earlier this year. Emily Elconin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in Detroit earlier this year. Photo: Emily Elconin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Republican lawmakers are defending the state's nonpartisan watchdog against accusations of partisanship after the governor proposed steep cuts to the agency's budget.

Why it matters: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants to cut the Office of the Auditor General's budget next year by more than $8 million to $21.4 million — a 28% reduction.

  • The proposed cut would "significantly impair the oversight we provide to you and the public," Auditor General Doug Ringler wrote in a letter to legislative leaders last month.

The big picture: The auditor general has found performance and financial issues within several state departments in recent years.

  • Whitmer has not offered an explanation for the proposed cut, but other Democrats say the office has acted outside of its authority in partisan ways.
  • Republicans argue the governor is playing politics by trying to cut the office's budget.
Michigan Auditor General budget appropriations
Data: Office of the Auditor General; Chart: Axios Visuals

The intrigue: Records obtained by Michigan Advance reveal Ringler helped draft a request for a 2020 election audit after meetings with House Republicans.

  • Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Twp.) says the request was inappropriate.

What they're saying: "If there is ever a place in Lansing where we should rise above petty partisan politics, it should be oversight and ethics," Rep. Tom Kunse (R-Clare) said in a statement.

  • Ringler wrote in his letter that the office received no feedback regarding the reason behind the cut. The governor's office has referred media requests about the proposed cut to the state budget office.

Flashback: Perhaps the most notable fight between the OAG and the governor's administration was over the accounting of COVID-19 deaths.

  • The auditor general provided a study of reported and unreported COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities in Michigan at the request of a Republican lawmaker.
  • Many Republicans at the time claimed the governor had covered up or undercounted the true number of deaths — a characterization Ringler himself disagreed with.

Zoom in: Ringler has held positions in government for three decades. Former Gov. Rick Snyder appointed him in 2011 to review Flint's finances under the controversial emergency manager law.

  • Ringler also was part of a team tasked with reviewing Detroit's finances in 2013 before it became the largest city to file for municipal bankruptcy.

What's next: The office's budget can still change as negotiations in the Legislature take place.

  • The state budget office says $100 placeholders replacing roughly $9.3 million in the budget will "be determined based on need."
  • Whitmer is expected to sign budget bills this summer, before the next fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
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