Governor’s budget vetoes put deputies’ jobs in peril.

October 8, 2019

Oceana County Sheriff Craig Mast

Governor’s budget vetoes put deputies’ jobs in peril.

LANSING – Governor Gretchen Whitmer cut the Secondary Road Patrol program last week as part of her vetoes that slash close to $1 billion from the 2020 state budget.

However, 23 supplemental appropriation bills were introduced in the Republican-controlled Senate Tuesday, Oct. 8, aimed at reversing many of the budget vetoes enacted by Whitmer. Included in those bills is the Secondary Road Patrol Program.

The program pays for additional deputies to patrol rural roads, and local sheriffs say this could put jobs at stake. In 2018, the program funded salaries for more than 100 deputies across the state. Veto cuts included $13.1 million for secondary road patrol programs.

“It could affect us quite severely if the vetoes go through,” said Oceana County Sheriff Craig Mast. “It’s going to be hard to cover the night shift.”

Oceana receives approximately $48,000 annually from the state’s Secondary Road Patrol Program, Mast said. “That goes a long way to cover our deputies wages.”

The sheriff’s office could potentially lose a deputy if the funding cuts are enacted.

Oceana’s secondary road patrol salaries are divided in half, the sheriff explained, with half the funding coming from the state and half coming from the county. “That makes them available to do general duties as well.”

Normally there are two road patrol deputies on duty for each shift, and occasionally there are three. “We’re very thin-staffed as it is,” he said. There are approximately 12 road patrol deputies on staff.

Mast said he has been in contact with staff from the offices of Michigan Senator Jon Bumstead (R-Newago) and State Rep. Scott VanSingle (R-Grant). “I’m trying to impress upon them the importance of keeping the funds in tact.”

Also on the chopping block is the County Jail Reimbursement Program which provides state reimbursement to counties housing felons in the county jails that could be in the state prison system. If that program is slashed, Oceana County could lose close to $25,000, Mast said.

“I encourage people to contact our representatives, senators and the governor’s office,” he said. “It appears to be political hardball. Public safety is being sacrificed to repair roads.”

Whitmer campaigned on a pledge to “fix the damn roads,” and drafted her first budget around a 45-cent-per-gallon increase in the state fuel tax. Key to the plan is that it would not only increase annual road funding by $1.9 billion, but it would also allow the state to stop spending hundreds of millions of dollars annually on roads that the governor stresses should be spent on other priorities, such as education and the environment.

Other controversial funding vetoes include $38 million in higher education tuition grants for independent and private colleges, $10 million for “secure schools,” and $1.6 million for “strict discipline academies.”

Like the secondary road patrol veto, some of the Democratic governor’s cuts appear targeted at rural areas that tend to elect Republican lawmakers, such as $16.6 million for rural hospitals and nearly $8 million to pay for rural obstetricians.

“We have an opportunity to negotiate things back into the budget if the Legislature avails themselves of that opportunity,” Whitmer said during a press conference last week.

Legislative leaders and Whitmer plan to meet Thursday, Oct. 10.

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