FILE - In this Dec. 10, 2019, file photo, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, speaks to reporters inside the Senate in Lansing, Mich. Shirkey is opposing legislation that would ease Michigan election clerks' ability to process an expected influx of absentee ballots, saying it would set a "dangerous precedent." Shirkey's stance — announced Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020,— makes it unlikely that the proposed change will be enacted before the November presidential election. (AP Photo/David Eggert, File) Mike Shirkey
FILE - In this Dec. 10, 2019, file photo, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, speaks to reporters inside the Senate in Lansing, Mich. Shirkey is opposing legislation that would ease Michigan election clerks' ability to process an expected influx of absentee ballots, saying it would set a "dangerous precedent." Shirkey's stance — announced Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020,— makes it unlikely that the proposed change will be enacted before the November presidential election. (AP Photo/David Eggert, File)

Michiganders need health care during the pandemic, greater access to resources, and safe educational options, but Mike Shirkey blames the budget deficit on life-saving efforts.

LANSING, MI — One leading Republican in Michigan’s legislature is telling the community to “suffer through” the state’s budget crisis during the coronavirus.

Without further federal assistance, Michigan faces a multibillion dollar budget shortfall in October. That could jeopardize things like school funding, infrastructure repair, environmental maintenance efforts, and measures to mitigate the novel coronavirus pandemic that has infected more than 100,000 Michiganders and prompted this sudden, steep budget shortfall. 

“Some states have crippled their economies, like Michigan, based on the actions taken, and we just need to suffer through it for a cycle or two until the economy gets back on track,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clark Lake) said in a recent radio interview.

What suffering-through looks like

While Shirkey blamed the budget shortfall on policies implemented to save lives during the pandemic, Democrats were quick to fire back that without those policies, far more Michiganders would have died. That is borne out by symptom data, which shows that stay-at-home orders in Michigan were almost instantly and dramatically effective in slowing the spread of the coronavirus and flattening the curve to allow hospitals to deal with the coronavirus cases that did present. 

More than just the decrease in revenues, the state budget has an increase in expenses related to the coronavirus, both in terms of providing protective equipment and implementing new systems for testing, reporting, and preventing the coronavirus’ spread but in dealing with how the virus has impacted Michigan families in other ways as Congress remains at an impasse in its own efforts to pass a new coronavirus relief package. 

As seen when cities have faced these shortfalls already, addressing the problem caused by reducing tax revenues and increasing expenses without federal assistance almost certainly means scaling back operations like road repairs or fighting the pandemic. 

And that’s the solution favored by Shirkey. Lansing Republicans already expressed a desire to slash school budgets to offset budget shortfalls, and that approach matches what Shirkey feels is necessary. 

“I think we need to learn to live within our means,” he said.

His statements have been characterized as callous by Michigan Democrats. 

“This flippant disregard for human life and loss in Michigan is dangerous and destructive,” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said in a statement. “I have lost 23 people to COVID-19. We must put all hands on deck and all resources on the table to prevent people from getting sick, care for those who do, and stop anyone else from dying.”

A much broader trend

Shirkey’s efforts to frame the economy as a preventable casualty of the virus, and to place economic recovery ahead of public health recovery, are part and parcel of Republican strategy during the pandemic. 

For instance, a major throughline from Michigan across the nation is is a desire among legislative Republicans and President Trump to rush states to re-engage their economies as quickly as possible in an effort to combat the long-term economic impact of the pandemic. Some Republicans have even suggested what the Washington Post called “a Faustian bargain” actively risking the lives of the elderly to restore economic engagement.

And though Shirkey’s comments are part of that larger trend, he is hardly alone in Lansing’s Republican cloakroom. State Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Twp) has expressed similar thoughts. 

“I’m not going to pretend state spending cuts won’t likely be needed,” Berman said in comments provided to The ‘Gander. “The budget picture is bleak. Many of our local businesses were shut down or slowed significantly during COVID-19, which impacts how much the state collects in income and sales taxes. I believe Michigan should tap into the funds we already have and can readily access.”

In June, Berman signed on to legislation that would actively refuse federal assistance dealing with Michigan’s budget crisis. And while in making his argument Berman pointed to Michigan’s long history of balancing the state budget, that same point was used by Michigan Budget Director Chris Kolb to illustrate just how unusual the situation Michigan faces is and how the current financial crisis is not just a matter of living within the state’s means.

“Michigan is a well-managed state with a good credit rating and a healthy rainy day fund,” Kolb told reporters at a press conference. “Our revenue shortfall is a direct result of COVID-19 and the economic toil it has taken. This is a 50-state problem.”