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Clinton urges Snyder to tap $1B surplus for Flint

Chad Livengood, and Jonathan Oosting

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Friday urged Gov. Rick Snyder and Michigan lawmakers to tap the state’s $1 billion in surplus revenue to create a fund for the long-term health and educational needs of Flint children exposed to potential lead poisoning through the city’s water.

The state has a $575 million budget surplus from the 2015 fiscal year, plus a rainy day savings fund of $498 million that is budgeted to grow to $565 million this fiscal year.

“The governor’s sitting on a budget surplus and a rainy day fund, and if there were ever a rainy day in Flint, it’s right now,” Clinton said in an interview on Flint radio station WFNT-AM (1470).

Clinton’s language mimics what’s been urged by Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, who on Jan. 20 said, “This is a rainy day in the City of Flint. Actually it’s raining cats and dogs...”

Clinton called into the Flint radio station from Des Moines, where she is campaigning all weekend in a close battle with Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in Monday’s Iowa presidential caucuses.

“This is what I care about, this is what I’ve worked on,” the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state said. “I’ve spent years trying to even the odds for people who have them stacked against them.”

Clinton’s demand for more state financial assistance for Flint residents came on the same day Snyder signed a $28 million funding bill to pay for short-term aid for water, nutritional needs, an infrastructure study and other assistance to Flint residents.

Clinton warned there are other poverty-stricken urban communities like Flint where children are more likely to be exposed to harmful toxins.

“We know there are more Flints out there, many places where low-income communities and communities of color are struggling to deal with lead paint, toxic soil, unsafe water and air, and I’m just not going to accept the status quo,” she said.

Clinton used to the radio appearance to continue her pointed criticism of the Snyder administration’s handling of Flint’s water problems, which began in April 2014 when the city began temporarily using Flint River water without treating it with chemicals that prevent corrosion. The corrosion caused lead to eventually leach into the drinking water supply.

“If the water in Flint corrodes engine parts, imagine what it’s doing to the children of Flint,” Clinton said. “It’s just heartbreaking. And I really think it demands the kind of national attention I decided to give it because it’s a perfect example of failing to do what we should to make sure every single person in our country has the chance to have a basic standard of living.”

“And what’s more basic than water?” Clinton added.

When radio host Jason Cooper asked Clinton whether she thinks a Republican like Snyder would “deliberately poison children and adults to save money,” Clinton responded: “Well, I think we’ve got to get to the bottom of who knew what (and) when and what decisions they made.”

Unsafe levels of lead were discovered in Flint’s drinking water last year after testing by outside researchers called into question the state Department of Environmental Quality’s regulation of the Flint water plan.

DEQ and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials have since admitted they failed to require Flint to added corrosion control chemicals to the water. Snyder’s DEQ director and the agency’s communications director resigned in late December; two DEQ employees were suspended without pay last week.

The EPA’s regional administrator, Susan Hedman, is stepping down after this week for her office’s lack of oversight of the DEQ and Flint’s water treatment.

Clinton said Friday that Hedman’s resignation “is totally appropriate.”

“Because when you are dismissive of people’s legitimate complaints, that should raise red flags,” she said.

Clinton has stopped short of joining Sanders in calling for Snyder to resign.

At a campaign rally Wednesday night in Mason City, Iowa, Sanders briefly mentioned Flint in calling for more investment in replacing aging infrastructure such as the lead-soldered pipes in Flint blamed for the water contamination.

Clinton first began commenting on Flint’s lead-contaminated water three weeks ago and highlighted it during a Democratic debate with Sanders, prompting Snyder to say she was politicizing the crisis.

“I don’t call what I and others did politicizing it,” Clinton said Friday. “I call it getting results.”

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3660

Twitter.com/ChadLivengood