CHICAGO -- A judge in Michigan on Friday reinstated general assistance for able-bodied single adults in the state, returning a $230 million program to the state's fiscal 1992 budget just hours before Gov. John Engler announced his vetoes to bring the budget into balance.
According to Chris DeWitt, a spokesman for the Michigan Attorney General's office, Ingham County Circuit Court Judge James Giddings ordered the immediate reinstatement of general assistance as a result of a lawsuit brought against the state's director of social services by a group of general assistance recipients.
State officials were not sure how the ordered return of general assistance would affect the budget because money for the program had not been appropriated by the Legislature in the current budget.
John Truscott, a spokesman for the governor, said the ruling was "irresponsible and irrational," and he added that it usurps the authority of the governor and the Legislature to make appropriations.
Mr. Truscott said the judge in his order found that the state had erred in the way it notified recipients that the general assistance program would be ended. However, the spokesman said the order did not make clear what that error was.
Mr. DeWitt said the attorney general's office was preparing an emergency appeal of the ruling to be filed in the state appeals court "as soon as possible."
The state had ended general assistance for about 80,000 residents Oct. 1 after the $230 million program was eliminated from the budget by the Legislature as a key ingredient in bringing the budget closer to balance. Legislative leaders and finance officials from the Engler administration had spent weeks negotiating cuts in the budget.
On Sept. 27, the Legislature passed a $7.7 billion general funds budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. However, that budget was about $200 million more than the administration's revenue estimate of $7.5 billion.
On Friday, Gov. Engler signed what he called a balanced budget that incorporated $110 million of appropriation vetoes, a $34.4 million reduction in proposed revenue sharing for local governments, $28 million in unspent departmental funds and $25 million from a planned refinancing of state building authority debt. The governor is also planning to increase spending for K-12 education by $17.3 million.
"The bottom line is it's a balanced budget with these cuts," said Nick Khouri, the state's chief deputy treasurer. "There are only a few one-shots and a significant portion of the structural imbalances this administration inherited in January has been eliminated with no tax increase."
Leaders of both the Republican-controlled Senate and Democrat-controlled House had been waiting to see what veto actions the governor would take before moving on a supplemental appropriations bills that would restore some social services spending.
While the governors' aides characterized his vetoes as cutting fat from the budget, House Democrats accused him of using the vetoes to send the state "back to the Stone Age."
"Gov. Engler's veto message reflects his mean-spirited vision for Michigan," said Steve Serkatan, spokesman for House Speaker Lewis Dodak, D-Birch Run. "The vetoes will hurt our quality of life."
Michigan's general obligation debt is rated AA with a negative outlook by Standard & Poor's Corp., AA by Fitch Investors Service, and A1 by Moody's Investors Service.