Flint mayor lobbies for more aid as Michigan House approves 2017 budget
Lansing — Flint Mayor Karen Weaver on Wednesday began a two-day appeal to Republican legislative leaders for more aid for the crisis-stricken city as the Michigan House approved a 2017 budget that includes $28.5 million for Flint’s needs.
Weaver said she used a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof to “clear up any kind of misconceptions” about Flint’s partnership with the state in resolving the city’s lead contamination crisis.
“We’re trying to put things aside so we can move forward because there’s a bigger picture than, are we fussing and fighting?” Weaver told reporters after the meeting.
Weaver’s session with Meekhof and a planned Thursday meeting with House Speaker Kevin Cotter mark the first time she’s met the Legislature’s top leaders in her less than six months of office.
Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, said Wednesday he welcomes a truce in the city-state tensions.
“There was some consternation about steps that were taken to preserve the odds for an opportunity for a lawsuit and that put us at odds,” he told reporters. “But I think it’s about, OK, let’s set that aside, let’s try to focus on solutions here.”
Cotter added that it would be helpful if the cloud of a lawsuit weren’t hanging over the Flint funding talks.
“I think it’s important that we not be in the place where that is possible because then people start to clam up,” the House speaker. “I mean, we’ve got a lot of lawsuits floating around this town and things you can’t talk about. And as soon as there’s the threat of litigation, then it can be harder to resolve the problems.”
Meekhof, R-West Olive, declined through a spokeswoman to comment Wednesday about his meeting with Weaver.
But as the mayor met with the Senate Republican leader, the House passed a $38.8 billion budget on a 76-32 vote to fund state government in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
The budget includes about $28.5 million from state and federal sources for relief efforts in Flint, including $15.1 million in health services for children with elevated blood levels, residential lead investigations and abatement and restaurant inspections.
About $8 million of the new money would pay for subsidized child care of all Flint children ages 0-3 from families with household incomes of up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, according to the House Fiscal Agency.
Another $5.4 million is set aside for corrosion control, water quality testing and helping Flint remain connected to Detroit’s water system for the last three months of this year.
The House plan contains an additional $9 million for testing for lead in all Michigan schools that some lawmakers include in total Flint-related aid.
Lawmakers have appropriated another $67 million since October to help pay for water supplies and lead testing, blood testing of residents, and nutritional and early childhood education programs. The $67 million includes $30 million in credits to the water bills of Flint residents for tainted water they received between April 2014 and October.
Separately, the Senate is planning to vote next week on $144.3 million in additional funding for Flint’s needs for the current fiscal year. That supplemental funding bill includes more than $100 million in state tax dollars, $50 million of which is an emergency reserve fund.
“I think we’re making incremental progress,” Cotter told reporters.
The House budget includes a new line item of $2.6 million for the Attorney General’s office to spend on litigation related to the Flint water crisis. That’s on top of $1.5 million Attorney General Bill Schuette is already spending this fiscal year and another $1.3 million he requested in the Senate’s supplemental funding bill.
Gov. Rick Snyder has already set aside $1.2 million for his office’s legal defense, including $800,000 for private criminal defense attorneys.
House Republicans on Wednesday defeated an amendment sponsored by Democratic Rep. Sam Singh of East Lansing that would have prohibited the GOP governor from using tax dollars for his own potential criminal defense.
Singh argued Snyder should set up a legal defense fund instead of billing taxpayers.
“He can raise the money from the public or put his own money into that,” Singh said on the House floor.