Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty to 2018 Parkland school massacre

Snyder focuses $195M on Flint’s health, water needs

Leonard N. Fleming and Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News

Gov. Rick Snyder put more specifics and dollars behind aiding Flint Wednesday when he proposed $195.4 million in new aid for the city’s contaminated water crisis as part of his state budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The governor made his 40-minute presentation before the House and Senate Appropriations committees as protesters chanted outside the hearing room.

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of resources and people spending their time on blame. That doesn’t solve the problem,” Snyder told legislators as he sat alongside his budget director, John Roberts. “So my focus and effort is on problem-solving, just as it has been for the last few years. It’s going to continue.”

Governor Rick Snyder presents the budget to the combined House and Senate Appropriations committees in the Capitol on Wednesday, Feb 10, 2016.

Snyder, who declined to testify Wednesday before the U.S. House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, said he is cooperating with investigations into the Flint water crisis.

The governor is backing a new supplemental budget request that will include $30 million for relief of Flint water bill payments and another $25 million for the city’s infrastructure needs. It also would set aside $165 million for statewide infrastructure needs in a new Michigan Infrastructure Fund.

When asked if the federal government is doing enough, Snyder said, “We could use more help from Washington.” The federal government, he said, has only given $5 million directly to Flint as part of President Barack Obama’s emergency declaration.

The Obama administration has rejected Michigan’s appeals for a major disaster declaration and an expansion of federal nutritional aid for Flint’s children.

“I’m pleased to see Gov. Snyder retool his budget for the upcoming fiscal year to put a focus on the needs of Flint, but the problem is the need is now, while some of the money for Flint won’t even go into effect until October,” said state Rep. Pam Faris, D-Clio, in a statement. “This cannot be a public relations-only win for the governor while the people of Flint continue to suffer daily. They can’t wait another day.”

The Snyder administration has indicated it plans to spend money on Flint’s infrastructure after experts have mapped the city’s pipeline system and figured out which water service lines most need replacement.

The $54.9 billion budget — an increase of 0.8 percent, or $438 million over last year’s budget — also calls for investments in Detroit Public Schools, plus funding for job creation, policing and safety, and addressing long-term liabilities.

We’re providing significant resources that are going to be ongoing challenges with Flint, the crisis there ... we need to do the right things there to address that situation,” Snyder said. “We need to take care of the schoolkids in Detroit. We need to look at our long-term infrastructure.”

The proposed Flint assistance will be targeted at the long-term educational and health needs of the city’s nearly 9,000 children ages 6 and younger who were exposed to lead-contaminated drinking water as well as adults. It would pay for specialists such as nurses and epidemiologists; access to health care; tests and studies; as well as continued supplies of bottled water, water filters and replacement cartridges.

Snyder also is requesting $72 million in his 2017 budget and for the next nine years as part of a 10-year plan to pay down the debt of Detroit Public Schools. It is part of a restructuring plan for the state’s largest school district, which could run out of money this spring. The money would come from the Tobacco Settlement Fund.

In addition, the governor wants a $50 million appropriation to keep the Detroit school district running while lawmakers debate legislation to overhaul DPS, which has struggled for years with mounting debt and falling enrollment. The debt relief funds will free up $1,000 per student to go into the classrooms.

Rep. Harvey Santana, D-Detroit, made an impassioned plea for Snyder and his administration to fix the DPS problem for good by allocating funds to fix crumbling schools and improve education.

“This is probably going to be the biggest vote, I think, that I’ve taken, or will take, potentially, in the six years I’ve been here,” Harvey told the governor and the committee. “As I look at this issue, I don’t just see a $500 million investment. I don’t see a $200 million investment to create the new government entity. I see the potential for us to stop the pipeline to prison.

“Education is so fundamental to people in Detroit, to me as a man of color, to me as an elected official. And I have to know that if we’re going to make this type of investment, that we are going to solve this problem.”

Snyder said his “hope” is that the proposed hundreds of millions of dollars would help put DPS back on track, “because this is not about money, this is about the kids.”

The Detroit school plan is part of a proposed $12.1 billion in statewide education spending, up from this year’s $11.8 billion. The spending increase translates into a $60 per pupil hike for higher-funded districts up to a $120 per-pupil rise for lower-funded districts such as Detroit.

For Michigan’s colleges, Snyder proposes restoring higher education funding to 2011 levels with a 4.3 percent funding hike. To get the full increase, the state’s 16 public universities must agree to keep their tuition increases to 4.8 percent or less.

In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, expressed a willingness to work with Snyder on aid for Flint and DPS, and for increased higher education funding.

“The governor’s budget plan reflects many Senate priorities,” he said.

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