June 5, 2014 at 5:58 pm

Legislators strike land-buying restriction for Detroit-Canada bridge from budget

Lansing — Lawmakers have removed a restriction from the state budget that would have prevented the Michigan Department of Transportation from buying land in Detroit on Canada’s behalf for a new bridge to Ontario.

A joint House-Senate conference committee handling MDOT’s $3.8 billion budget on Thursday struck the land-purchasing provision that senators stuck in the bill last month.

The provision was seen as a new obstacle to construction of a $2.1 billion public bridge that is being entirely financed by the Canadians because Michigan lawmakers refuse to spend any state tax dollars on the project. But Michigan is still waiting for the Obama administration to propose federal funding for a $250 million customs plaza in Detroit.

House and Senate conference committees on Thursday began finalizing the 2014-15 fiscal year budgets for some state agencies, including MDOT.

Lawmakers are trying to send Gov. Rick Snyder a $52 billion overall budget plan by the end of next week when legislative leaders hope to adjourn for the summer.

In the Michigan State Police’s $639.5 million budget, lawmakers agreed to make $1.1 million in annual rent payments to Detroit for a state forensics laboratory in the new public safety headquarters downtown.

The chairman of the joint House-Senate conference committee handling the agency’s budget was irked by the “last-minute” additional cost.

“I’m not appreciative of last-minute additions,” said Sen. Pat Colbeck, R-Canton Township, who reluctantly went along with the expense. “You do a lot of stuff in this job that you do to make sure the process keeps moving.

Since 2010, the state has contributed $15 million toward Detroit’s acquisition and renovation of the former MGM Grand Detroit Casino on Third Avenue for a new Detroit Public Safety Headquarters. The state owns 18.56 percent of the building.

But under a space-sharing agreement, the state will be a “condominium” co-owner and expected to contribute $1.1 million annually toward maintenance, utilities and repairs for the building’s upkeep, according to House Fiscal Agency report.

The state police budget plan includes $12.3 million add 100 new troopers to a force of 1,184 and $4.4 million to hire 31 new motor carrier officers to enforce weight limits on commercial trucks.


Higher ed budget finalized

A separate conference committee handling state appropriations for Michigan’s 15 public universities approved a 5.9 percent increase in funding for higher education next year, slightly less than the 6.1 percent increase Snyder requested in February.

Lawmakers abandoned a Senate proposal to dock Michigan State University’s state funding by $500,000 for operating a building trades academy that the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan accuses of organizing union shops inside non-union construction companies.

To get a share of the $74.6 million in additional state funds, universities will have to keep their tuition increases below 3.2 percent and meet certain performance standards related to graduation rates, administrative cost containment and science, technology, engineering and mathematical education.

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