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    Michigan auditor general decries proposed budget cut

    By Jon King,


    Auditor General Doug Ringler at a joint Oversight Committee hearing on COVID-19 deaths in Michigan nursing homes on Jan. 20, 2022. | Screenshot

    Michigan Auditor General Doug Ringler says his department’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year will see a nearly 30% reduction, which would  “significantly impair” the oversight function of an agency that has been accused of straying from its nonpartisan status.

    In a letter to House and Senate leadership, Ringler this month said that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s $80.7 billion Fiscal Year (FY) 2025 budget proposal placed a $100 placeholder in the Office of Auditor General (OAG) budget line item where previously 23 interdepartmental grants (IDGs) and 13 appropriations from special revenue funds were listed.

    “This reflects a decrease of approximately $9.3 million from FY24,” said Ringler. “While the Executive Budget recommendation included a General Fund increase of about $1 million, the net $8.3 million (28%) decrease would significantly impair the oversight we provide to you and the public. It would also result in many instances of conflict with existing state law. The reductions occurred after it was our understanding the Legislative Leadership supported a 5% increase in our overall budget.”

    House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp.) at the Mackinac Policy Conference on June 1, 2023. (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)

    In response, House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp.) issued a release condemning the proposed decrease to the budget of the OAG, which he claimed had exposed “incompetence, inefficiency, and fraud” in its reviews of state agencies and programs.

    “Gov. Whitmer’s administration has received multiple failing grades from this investigative office throughout her tenure, and to keep her future aspirations intact, she wants to make sure no one is checking her homework,” said Hall. “In a budget proposal spending more than $80 billion, this cut appears to be a calculated and intentional attack on the only remaining nonpartisan oversight body. The Legislature must reject the governor’s cuts and fully fund the auditor general’s vital work — shedding sunshine on state government and helping the people of Michigan and their elected representatives know what works and what’s broken.”

    Hall specifically noted OAG audits that had “helped expose billions of dollars in fraud and improper payments” by the Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) during and after the COVID-19 pandemic and “identified unreported deaths in long-term care facilities during Whitmer’s COVID-19 orders.”

    However, both of those audits themselves have come under scrutiny as either incomplete or outright partisan.

    In the case of the UIA, Director Julia Dale said the audit , which found the agency was “not effective” in processing unemployment claims during the pandemic, ignored “UIA reforms to resolve the issues cited and lacks the context behind what caused these problems.”

    As for the report on deaths in long-term care facilities, it was requested in June 2021 by then-House Oversight Committee Chair Steven Johnson (R-Wayland), who had publicly said COVID-19 could be mitigated with exercise and a good die t. The ensuing report linked 8,061 COVID-19 deaths to long-term care facilities from March 2020, when the pandemic began, to July 2021. The state’s number of deaths linked to long-term care facilities is 5,675.

    That discrepancy then became a GOP talking point that has continued to this day, despite Ringler saying it was not a cover-up by the Whitmer administration, but instead because the auditor general’s information, as asked by Johnson, included more deaths than the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is required to report under federal and state requirements.

    Regardless, criticism of Ringler’s handling of the report came from many Democrats, including Mark Schauer, a former Democratic congressman, state lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate, who told the Michigan Advance in 2022 that the OAG under Ringler was doing the bidding of the Republican leadership, and “misleading the public.”

    Ringler has strongly disputed that characterization and maintains the OAG remains nonpartisan in carrying out its statutory oversight role.

    When he was appointed to his first eight-year term in 2014, Ringler won unanimous approval from the Legislature. When he came up for reappointment in 2022, a total of 26 Democrats voted against it , although it still passed, with Ringler’s current term set to expire in 2030. His position is not subject to term limits.

    Meanwhile, state Rep. Cam Cavitt (R-Cheboyhan), called the cut a “plot to defund [the] Auditor General.”

    “This proposed budget cut should serve as a warning to all other state agencies: if you make the governor mad,she will weaponize your budget until you either submit or your phones get shut off because you couldn’t afford to pay the bill,” said Cavitt.

    When asked to comment on the proposed budget cut, Whitmer’s office referred the Advance to the State Budget Office (SBO).

    ‘He’s doing their bidding’: Critics say Republicans use auditor general for partisan attacks

    “The executive budget recommendation for fiscal year 2025 includes a placeholder line-item for OAG to be determined based on need,” Lauren L. Leeds, the SBO’s public information officer. “There is a similar placeholder for the legislative retirement system. We will continue to work with the legislature to pass a balanced budget that puts Michiganders first.”

    While Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids), who was among those who received the letter from Ringler, did not respond when asked for comment, Amber McCann, spokesperson for House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit), told the Advance that it was still early in the budget process and that development of a fiscal plan for the state is just underway.

    “The speaker has received the letter and will review the concerns raised by the Office of Auditor General,” said McCann.

    Proposed in February, Whitmer’s proposed budget for FY 2025 is proceeding through the typical review process expected to run through June, before the Legislature breaks for the summer. That process also includes separate bills introduced by the House and Senate that will then need to be reconciled into a final package to put up for a vote.

    Ringler’s letter closed with an appeal to restore the funding.

    “Strong legislative support allows us to provide valuable insight into the operations of key programs, identify opportunities for improvement, and assess compliance with laws,” he said. “I look forward to meeting with you or other designated personnel to discuss any questions you may have and to work toward restoring our funding so we can continue to provide valuable oversight and partnership in an independent, objective, and transparent manner.”


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