News Story

Whitmer seeks federal emergency laws to cover mild winter

Warm weather casts doubt on Michigan’s future as haven from warm weather

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is seeking Washington’s help in dealing with the consequences of a mild winter.

“There is no denying it,” Whitmer wrote in letter sent to Capitol Hill leaders April 3. “We are facing an unprecedented problem resulting in a devastating impact on our businesses and regional economies.”

The governor is seeking an easier path for Michigan businesses to receive federal Small Business Administration relief for revenues lost to warmer weather. This winter’s below-average snowfall and warmer temperatures proved challenging for various businesses, including ski resorts, dog racing events and ice fishing suppliers. “I write to you—our nation’s federal legislators and administrators—and request that you develop regulatory or legislative solutions that can ensure businesses impacted by an exceptionally ‘warm winter’ can seek appropriate federal relief,” Whitmer writes.

The three-page letter, addressed to majority and minority leadership of the House and Senate, says the state is plagued by drought and wrestling with “the lasting impact of record high winter temperatures.” Whitmer described herself as hamstrung by America’s failure to treat warm weather and clear skies as disasters on the order of earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes.

“I am pleased that the drought declarations are providing relief in 43 counties across Michigan, as well as scores of counties across Minnesota and Wisconsin,” Whitmer wrote. “However, this solution is not designed for the problem at hand, and the truth is we do not have a reliable or well-tailored tool for federal relief for businesses devastated by unseasonably warm winters. As governor, I do not have the ability to draw down any federal funds by declaring a ‘warm winter‘ or ‘no snow’ disaster, as I do for declaring other disasters like storms or droughts. And where I do have the ability to declare for droughts, I am limited to only the severest levels of drought, which has left many counties in Michigan uncovered by any sort of federal SBA relief this winter, although they are feeling the impact just as much as their neighboring counties.”

The governor’s office did not respond to email and phone requests for comment.

The grim tone of Whitmer’s letter contrasts with her previous suggestions that global warming will turn Michigan into a climate haven.

“We know that people are going to migrate because of climate,” Whitmer said during a tour of the Upper Peninsula last summer. Though Michigan’s state population growth has been stagnant-to-negative in recent years, the governor promised that droughts and wildfires around the nation could reverse that trend. “Our goal is to just strategically grow our population in the immediate, knowing that ultimately, we will be one of these states where people are seeking refuge.”

At other times, Whitmer has struck a more apocalyptic tone of a climate-induced population increase, saying the state’s natural resources are at stake.

“The whole world is going to want to come here or take our water,” she said during a gubernatorial debate in 2022. “We cannot let that happen. But what we can do is have a strategic plan for population growth and management of our natural resources.”

Though the governor’s request for federal money drew bipartisan support, some policy experts warn that expanding the definition of an emergency could have serious consequences for budgeting and the separation of powers.

It is highly probable that federal lawmakers intentionally left warm winters out of the emergency statute because they did not think such events fit commonsense definitions of a natural disaster, said Daniel Dew, legal policy director at the Pacific Research Institute.

“If these issues are a persistent problem that Congress has time to legislate, then that’s how this should be done, rather than just passing a law that allow governors to declare an emergency,” Dew told Michigan Capitol Confidential. “There is no triggering event, even though a lack of snow drastically impacts the bottom line of some businesses. How do you draw the line and make the law precise enough? Regardless of the wisdom of such a policy, how do you draft it in a way that it can’t be taken advantage of? Suppose you have a surfing community that makes its money from the surfing business, but one summer there’s not enough wind or no big waves. Is that community in a state of emergency? It's hard to see any limiting principle.”

Whitmer’s call for federal relief also overlooks the many activities — such as golfing and boating — that benefit from milder weather, said Mike Van Beek, director of research at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. He added that warm winter emergencies pave the way for even more frivolous claims.

“Gov. Whitmer is asking the federal government to open a can of worms,” Van Beek told Michigan Capitol Confidential. “If a mild Michigan winter can turn on the emergency funds spigot, there will be no end to the bad weather pleadings from other states and governors. But who will determine which common weather event deserves emergency funding?”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.