Snyder targets PFAS fight in $371M spending request

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

Lansing — Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is asking Michigan lawmakers to approve $371 million in new general fund spending before he leaves office, including additional money to fight drinking water contaminants and facilitate plans to move a controversial oil pipeline into an underwater tunnel.

Snyder delivered the supplemental spending request to legislative leaders last week ahead of the so-called “lame duck” session set to begin next Tuesday and run through late December. The administration is expected to negotiate the budget bill with lawmakers when they return to Lansing.

The state has extra money to spend because tax revenues have been “higher than anticipated,” said budget department spokesman Kurt Weiss, attributing the growth to Michigan’s “continued economic recovery.” Snyder signed a $56.8 billion budget in June.

Nearly half of Snyder’s new general fund spending request — $160 million — would go straight into the state’s “rainy day” Budget Stabilization Fund, which the accountant governor has been working to pad before leaving state government. The deposit would bring the fund balance up to $1.2 billion.

Of the other $211 million, Snyder wants to pump roughly $43 million into ongoing efforts to identify, investigate and remedy emerging environmental contaminants, including perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS.

The funding would help provide bottled water and tap filter distribution in communities like Parchment, where high levels of the emerging contaminants were found in drinking water. It also would finance additional lab testing, mapping and analysis of fish, wild game and agriculture products exposed to the chemicals.

The Snyder administration created a PFAS pollution response team in 2017, but critics argue the efforts should have started sooner. A state researcher sounded alarms in 2012 but said his calls initially went unheeded. 

The House Natural Resources Committee is likely to hold a hearing on PFAS issues Dec. 5 but is not expected to consider specific legislation, according to the office of Rep. Gary Howell, R-Lapeer, who chairs the panel. Democrats are pushing a bill that would establish a new state standard for PFAS levels in drinking water.

Another $52 million would be targeted at fulfilling Snyder's promise to jump start federal action on long-planned upgrades to the Soo Locks in the Upper Peninsula. Congress has authorized $922 million for the project, but it still requires an appropriation.

Snyder is also requesting a $4.5 million appropriation related to plans for Enbridge to move its controversial oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac into a new tunnel below the lake bed.

While Enbridge is expected to pay for the tunnel itself if the project moves forward, the state funds would be used for related planning, oversight and legal services, along with a high-frequency radar system to map currents at the Straits.

The governor’s budget request includes $21.2 million to fund Child Protective Services improvements. It comes after a scathing audit revealed the state has struggled to respond to abuse or neglect complaints on time, conduct required background checks, contact victims in a timely fashion and take other steps to ensure safety.

Snyder also wants $20 million to expand rural access to broadband internet service, which he requested earlier this year. Michigan ranks 30th in the nation for broadband availability and more than 350,000 households don’t have access to high-speed internet, according to the administration.

House Republican spokesman Gideon D'Assandro said legislative leaders will review the spending proposal in greater detail in coming days but did not anticipate any major disagreements. The House has been quick to approve PFAS response funding requests in the past, he said.

Snyder's proposal "shares a lot of the same priorities House Republicans have had over the past couple of years, so it's definitely something the caucus looks forward to working with him on," D'Assandro said.

House Democrats, who have been advocating for water cleanup funds, "appreciate" the boost in Snyder's spending request, said spokeswoman Samantha Hart. 

“But pennies are not going to fill potholes or clean up local water systems, and taxpayers deserve better than one-off, stop-gap measures that don't holistically address the challenges we face as a state,” she said, noting Democrats hope to work on long-term infrastructure plans next year with Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer.

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