Michigan Gov. Whitmer Seeks to Slash Auditor General’s Budget by 28 Percent

Steven Kovac
By Steven Kovac
April 17, 2024Politics
Michigan Gov. Whitmer Seeks to Slash Auditor General’s Budget by 28 Percent
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at an event in National Harbor, Md., on May 4, 2023. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Amid a projected $418 million state surplus for Fiscal 2025, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, is proposing to slash $8.3 million from the Office of the Auditor General’s (OAG) $30 million annual budget.

The independent and non-political OAG has been the target of criticism from Michigan Democrats and Republicans over the years. The partisan divide has been exacerbated by Ms. Whitmer’s proposal.

In a letter to state legislative leaders, long-time Auditor General Doug Ringler warned the decrease “would significantly impair the oversight” his office provides to the public.

“We received no advance notice of the Executive Budget reductions and no direct feedback regarding the reason behind them,” wrote Mr. Ringler.

He noted in his letter that the cuts could be as high as $9.3 million and that millions of dollars of federal grant funding to the State of Michigan could be jeopardized if the OAG lacks the resources to perform the audits required by the grants.

Gov. Whitmer did not respond to a request for comment by The Epoch Times. As of press time, her office has not issued a statement explaining her action.

Dissatisfied With the Auditor General

However, several Democrat state legislators have weighed in by publicly questioning the impartiality of Mr. Ringler and Deputy Auditor General Laura Hirst. The criticism goes back to the pair’s handling of the written request for a statewide election audit by former State Representative Julie Alexander, a Republican.

Filed on March 3, 2021, Ms. Alexander’s letter asked the OAG to audit the administration and financing of the November 2020 election—a proposal strongly resisted by Democrats at the time.

Recently, state Democrats alleged that, in an email exchange between Republican operatives and Mr. Ringler, the Auditor General gave too much guidance and assistance in the drafting of Ms. Alexander’s request—something, Mr. Ringler contends his office provides to any citizen to help keep the elements of the complaint within the OAG’s jurisdiction.

Mr. Ringler has denied that partisanship plays a role in his actions.

Whitmer’s Motives Questioned

In a statement, Republican House Minority Leader Matt Hall opposed Ms. Whitmer’s proposed cuts and questioned her motives.

“To keep her future aspirations intact, she wants to make sure no one is checking her homework. … This cut appears to be a calculated and intentional attack on the only remaining nonpartisan oversight body [that is] shedding sunshine on state government,” said Mr. Hall in a press release.

Ms. Whitmer is viewed by political pundits as a potential replacement for either President Joe Biden or Vice-president Kamala Harris going into the Nov. 5, presidential election.

The OAG is an independent, non-partisan organization created by the Michigan State Constitution. It is authorized to conduct performance and financial audits of government branches, offices, departments, boards, and other authorities. Its mission is to improve the accountability of public funds, as well as the operations of state government.

Mr. Ringler, a CPA, was appointed to his first eight-year term in 2014 by a unanimous vote of the state legislature. He was reappointed in 2022.

No Stranger to Controversy

Active in public service for more than 30 years, Mr. Ringler has held several different positions and participated in many controversies.

Before he was appointed auditor general, Mr. Ringler was tapped by former Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, to help restore fiscal viability to several financially-strapped cities across Michigan, such as Flint, Hamtramck, Highland Park, and Detroit. He also helped some insolvent school districts return to a balanced budget.

Mr. Ringler played a notable role in helping the Snyder administration deal with the Flint drinking water crisis of 2014–2016.

OAG audits also exposed the state’s under-reporting of COVID-19 deaths in Michigan nursing homes, as well as millions of dollars in unemployment benefits being paid out to unqualified recipients during the pandemic.

In 2019, and again in 2021, Mr. Ringler audited the state Bureau of Elections (BOE), a state agency that answers to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat.

Michigan Elections Pass Muster but Need Reform

In March 2022, Mr. Ringler published the findings of his latest audit of the conduct of the November 2020 presidential election. He identified seven shortcomings and offered recommendations for improvement.

The OAG recommended a full reconciliation between the state voter registration roll and the state’s driver’s license files. He suggested the need for legislation to minimize the chance of dead people having their votes counted. He called for improvement of Electronic Poll Book security and the controls that ensure proper oversight and reporting of post-election audits.

According to the OAG, the BOE needs to improve how it verifies and determines the accuracy and integrity of election results through the post-election audit process and to learn and listen more when visiting or surveying local election officials. Better training is needed all around, the report said.

Overall, the OAG gave the conduct of the 2020 presidential election in Michigan a passing grade.

The OAG report disappointed many Republicans who believe the audit didn’t go far enough, and it temporarily blunted the criticism of Mr. Ringler by many Democrats.

Nonetheless, the OAG was still confronted with a 28 percent cut of its fiscal 2025 budget by Ms. Whitmer.

The state budgeting process in Michigan goes on for many months and provides for the input of the Office of the Governor, the State Senate, and the State House of Representatives.

It is still unclear if the decrease in funding will remain a part of the final budget which must be approved by the legislature and signed by the governor.

The state budget was $56 billion the fiscal year before Ms. Whitmer took office in January 2019. It is now projected to be at least $80 billion for the fiscal year 2025.

From The Epoch Times

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