(Source MIRS.news, Published 05/06/2022) Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vowed two years ago to return 10% of her $159,300-a-year salary to the state Treasury as an act of solidarity with those workers who were out of work due to the Stay Safe, Stay Home order issued during the beginning of COVID-19.
As it turned out, Whitmer cut three checks in 2020 totaling $4,917 back to the Department of Treasury before discontinuing the sacrifice at the end of FY 2020. At that point, the federal relief dollars kicked in and it became clear the state not only wouldn't be in the hole, but would be flush with D.C. money and tax revenue.
Whitmer's returned salary amounts to about 3% of her gross annual salary. According to a paycheck calculator from smartasset.com, Whitmer's after-tax, take-home pay is $116,424 a year, meaning she gave back 4.3% of her annual net salary in 2020. Depending on how you look at it, she gave back 10% of her salary for 3 ½ months on the low end or 5 months on the high end.
The Governor made the announcement on April 20, at a time she also urged her senior team to give back 5% of their pay. She said she knew the state would be facing tough times and some difficult budget decisions lay ahead, so she wanted to lead by example (See "Whitmer Takes 10% Cut As COVID Cases Keep Moving Downward," 4/20/20).
At MIRS' request, the Governor's office reported Whitmer cut three checks back to Treasury of $1,639.07 each. One on July 27, one on Aug. 20 and the final one Sept. 18. The Department of Treasury verified those were the three checks -- two cut from her personal account and the third issued from the Gretchen Whitmer Revocable Trust.
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II also sent back a portion his salary back to the state during this period.
The salaries of the governor and lieutenant governor are set by the Constitution. It can only be adjusted through a State Officers Compensation Commission adjustment that's approved by the Legislature. The only way the two could take a “pay cut” would be to return money back to the Treasury.
"When the state was projecting a tight budget during the pandemic, Gov. Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Gilchrist stepped up to take a pay cut through the end of the fiscal year to further save taxpayer dollars and asked members of the cabinet and senior staff to do the same," said Whitmer Communications Director Bobby Leddy.
During that time, Whitmer also put a workshare program in place that helped save $80 million. These cuts, federal funding and good fiscal management turned the $3 billion deficit to a $7 billion surplus, Leddy said.
Told of the finding, Eric Ventimiglia, executive director of Michigan Rising Action, said the Governor shut down the state for far longer than the three months she sacrificed, "upending the economy and lives of Michiganders."
"Despite pledging to 'lead by example, Whitmer's other sacrifices included not getting her boat in the water, fallout from her trip to Florida, and getting caught at the Landshark (bar)," he said.
Whitmer is not the first governor to take a pay cut during tough times. During his first year, then-Gov. Rick Snyder paid back to Treasury a $1-a-year salary for a year before taking a regular salary (See "Snyder Will Collect Regular Salary," 5/16/12). After that point, the multi-millionaire former business executive gave a significant amount of the salary to charity.
Before she convinced the State Officers Compensation Commission (SOCC) to permanently reduce the salary of the Governor and the Legislature 10% during the Great Recession, Gov. Jennifer Granholm started giving back 10% of her gross salary in Fiscal Year 2004 and 5% in Fiscal Year 2005.
MIRS verified this payback at the time, as well, through a Freedom of Information Act request of cancelled checks.