Senate, House panels advance $3.6B in supplemental spending bills

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Michigan lawmakers on Wednesday pushed out of committee two large supplemental budget bills totaling about $3.6 billion that focused on water infrastructure improvements and law enforcement recruitment and retention.

The Senate's spending plan would allocate about $3.3 billion toward water infrastructure, including dam risk reduction and the replacement of lead service lines. The House's plan would designate $328.5 million toward support programs for firefighters and EMS, community outreach and public safety recruitment and retention.

The House and Senate could vote on their respective spending plans as early as Thursday. 

The passage of the spending bills came amid slow-moving negotiations between the GOP-led Legislature and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on how to spend the remaining $10 billion the state received in federal COVID relief funds. 

The Detroit News reported Monday that, amid a record-setting virus surge, the Michigan Legislature has yet to appropriate roughly $800 million in federal aid that could be used for testing, vaccinations and public health worker training.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, told reporters Wednesday there aren't any specific financial goals regarding how much of the COVID relief funds should be spent before the end of the year.

"Right now, we’re trying to get as many specific supplementals in play to allow it to go through the legislative process," Shirkey said. "We’re just going to continue to follow our overarching mantra and that is focusing on things that are capital constrained" with the influx of federal funds.

Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-East Lansing, said he hopes negotiations are productive as the Legislature considers how to allocate the remaining money. In the meantime, he said, the supplemental's passage is "a positive sign that we're working together on similar priorities."

The House public safety bill, which incorporates both federal COVID relief funds and surplus state funds, will address gaps in funding for communities to attract and retain law enforcement, said Rep. Thomas Albert, the Lowell Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

"They are crippled by staff shortages and senseless anti-police rhetoric that makes an inherently stressful job even more stressful," Albert said. "This initiative moving through the House of Representatives will help attract and keep high-quality personnel — and give them resources they need to help protect the communities they work in.”

One of the largest features of the Senate infrastructure plan is an allocation of about $1 billion toward lead service line replacements that will be distributed "over a few years and broadly" across the state, Shirkey said Wednesday.

Other big ticket items include $650 million for a loan fund to reduce dam risk, $400 million for a drinking water program within the Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy and another $400 million for the Great Lakes Water Authority for water supply improvements and changes needed after the summer's flooding.

Another $200 million would go toward clean water infrastructure grants, $100 million toward sewer and wastewater grants, and $100 million for PFAS remediation grants. 

Sen. Jon Bumstead, the Newaygo Republican who sponsored the bill, said it was "a huge step in ensuring our state water infrastructure undergoes transformational improvements that will benefit every Michigander for generations to come."

The House's law enforcement spending bill makes its largest investment, $57.5 million, in Move to Michigan incentives to attract out-of-state officers by allowing them to keep their retirement benefits if they move to Michigan. 

About $40 million would go toward police academy scholarships; $30 million to communications equipment, including $4.8 million for Isabella County; $35 million to signing and retention bonuses; and $14 million for equipment purchases such as cameras and body armor. 

About $10 million each would go toward community policing, explorer or job shadow programs, reimbursement for unpaid COVID-19 quarantines and school resource officers. 

Another $7.5 million would go toward mental health assistance and $2.5 million for police dog grants.

The bill also would push $25 million to Macomb County to be used as a 50% match for the construction of a central intake assessment facility.

Staff writer Craig Mauger contributed to this report.