To make up budget shortfalls, Michigan tapped into coronavirus aid to fund the Michigan State Police and Michigan Department of Corrections nearly at full capacity despite the state’s financial crisis.
LANSING, MI — Facing steep shortfalls, Michigan emptied its rainy day fund and still needed to cut across almost every part of state government as it struggles to adapt its budget during the coronavirus pandemic.
To help balance the state budget, the funding source for the Michigan State Police is changing, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced earlier this month.
She issued Executive Order 2020-155 on July 22, which allows the state to reduce funding to the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Department of Corrections by 1% and replace most of that funding with money from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund.
Although the budgets of the Department of Corrections and State Police have been preserved, thanks to federal aid Gov. Whitmer has fought for during this crisis, some news outlets are falsely reporting that the governor has “defunded the police” with this change. Whitmer is pushing other policies that may have the effect of “defunding the police” — just not in such a literal way, the way critics think about it.
Correcting the Record
On July 22, Michigan radio network Great Lakes News tweeted that Gov. Whitmer had “defunded the police” by slashing budgets to the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Department of Corrections. When asked if the Michigan State Police was defunded, public information officer Micheal Shaw was direct.
“Any reports of the Governor defunding us or Corrections is not accurate,” he told The ’Gander. “Most of the change has been from replacing General Fund dollars with [CARES Act] dollars from the Federal government.”
Republican legislators even took to social media to defend Gov. Whitmer’s proposal.
“In the end, there is no defunding,” state Rep. Phil Green, R-Millington, explained on Facebook.
“It was definitely more like reimbursing the police than defunding the police,” Alex Rossman, external affairs director at the nonpartisan Michigan League for Public Policy, told the Detroit Free Press. “There certainly should be concern about a revenue crunch coming up, but saying that that is going to impact the police or corrections budget any differently than any other priority currently, there’s no foundation for that assertion.”
Shaw said the crunch the state police are feeling from the coronavirus economic downturn has already been prepared for.
“We will fill that gap through the hiring freeze and the delay of a recruit school which will now begin September 8, 2020, temporary layoffs which took place May through July, changes in discretionary spending, and fleet cost savings,” he said.
Despite this, Great Lakes News has stood by their initial reporting.
“Essentially, the Gov. is defunding the Michigan State Police and the Dept. of Corrections because there’s no guarantee that federal funds will fill the gaps in 2021,” the network tweeted.
What Police Reform Michigan Is Actually Undergoing
According to data published by Lake Effect, Michiganders do support police reforms. Sixty-two percent of Michiganders support changes to use of force policies. Additionally, 47% of Michiganders support reorganizing police budgets to help fund services like mental health intervention to better address Michiganders in crisis.
“I don’t believe police should be defunded,” Gov. Whitmer told the Detroit Free Press. Instead, she said, “We need to rebuild and level the playing field through better schools and better transportation and access to health care.”
Ultimately that’s what many activists argue “defund the police” means, explains PolitiFact. The core message, according to the Rev. Al Sharpton, is a change of priorities and not about eliminating departments.
And that, Gov. Whitmer told The Root, she supports.
“You look at budgets and they’re focused on policing — they should be focused on education, transportation, access to health care, access to skills, and leveling the playing field,” she said.