DALLAS – The Michigan House signed off on a $54 billion fiscal 2017 budget that provides more money to deal with Flint's water contamination crisis and record spending for kindergarten through 12th grade education.
The Senate is expected to vote on its own version of the budget next week. Once both are passed, the two chambers will resolve their differences in a conference committee. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
The house plan closely resembles the $54 billion package unveiled earlier this year by Gov. Rick Snyder in February, said a spokesperson for House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant.
The House plan includes a nearly $39 billion general fund, $8 billion of federal funding, and $16 billion for K-12 education.
Wednesday's vote on the general fund budget was 76-32 with the education budget approved in a 60-50 a day earlier.
"We have worked hard to arrive at a responsible budget that makes the best use of the taxpayer money entrusted to the Legislature," said House Appropriations Chairman Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He highlighted the timely approval of the budget for the sixth consecutive year.
The $39 billion budget plan for general fund spending includes $30 million of additional funding for families in Flint. The state attorney general's criminal probe of the Flint water crisis would receive $2.6 million of those funds.
That funding supplements $67 million of previous funds already appropriated to Flint's water crisis.
"We are at about $100 million now," said Cotter. Lawmakers are meeting with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver "tomorrow for purpose of continuing the discussion." Cotter said he would consider $114 million in supplemental funding to be appropriated in parallel with the budget.
The budget also prioritizes public health and investing in Michigan's transportation infrastructure.
It includes provisions for funding reforms to Michigan's veteran homes, funding for the First Responder Presumed Coverage Fund which assists firefighters who contract cancer due to their employment, and increases funding for Michigan's roads.
The plan proposes a record $4.1 billion in spending for transportation that would be funded by previously approved increases in the state fuel tax and vehicle registration fees that will take effect in 2017. About $1.5 billion would be spent on local road projects, $500 million would go to highways and the rest would be spent on buses, airports and other local maintenance needs.
"This is a record-amount of money that we've spent on roads and bridges in Michigan. It's kind of a big issue — it has been over the last few years," said Pscholka.
Also of note is a record $16.1 billion proposed for school funding for K-12 schools. The House budget plan adopts Snyder's proposal to increase per pupil funding by $60 to $120 per student. The budget proposes to redirect $72 million from Michigan's tobacco settlement proceeds to begin repayment of Detroit Public Schools' debt, which is expected to reach $515 million by this summer.
A DPS restructuring proposal to divide the district into two entities is still awaiting to a hearing from the House Appropriations Committee. The proposal calls for the current Detroit Public Schools to be left intact only to levy taxes and repay its existing bond debts. A new school district, known as Detroit Community District, would own assets and operate the schools.
"The school aid budget also increases program funding for career and technical education for the coming fiscal year," said Rep. Gary Howell, R-North Branch. House Democrats voted against the school budget due to their contention that the plan does little to help most students in Michigan.
"We're pleased to see more funding being put into K-12 schools, but not all districts will see the increase they need to operate effectively, and some areas of the budget seem to focus more on corporate interests. We urge continued consideration of these amendments as the budget moves forward in hopes that our Republican counterparts understand that students must be the priority," said House Democratic Floor Leader Sam Singh, D-East Lansing.