Error delays Flint funding after sinkhole deal

Jonathan Oosting and Michael Gerstein
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — A Senate amendment error will delay final approval of Flint funding, a House spokesman said Wednesday, dimming what had been a celebratory bipartisan moment at the Capitol.

The upper chamber on Wednesday voted unanimously to send $100 million in federal funding to Flint, which Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency had awarded the state to help the city replace lead service lines and other water infrastructure.

But House officials detected a problem in the amended Senate legislation so the upper chamber will “do it tomorrow morning correctly,” House spokesman Gideon D’Assandro said.

The error temporarily dampened the mood after the state Senate’s Democratic leader earlier Wednesday celebrated a breakthrough for Flint aid after Republicans broke an inner-party stalemate over aid to help Macomb County fix a massive Fraser sinkhole.

“It’s great news. It’s very important for what we’re trying to do there,” said Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint. “…If it would have (gone) on longer, I would have been more frustrated, but I knew we were going to get it done. It’s construction season now, so we’ll be OK.”

The Flint water crisis funding has been held up for nearly a month as the Republican-led House and Senate debated what form of assistance to send Macomb County, which is working to fix the Fraser sinkhole and divert the flow of sewage around a collapsed interceptor.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, House Speaker Tom Leonard and Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration struck a deal Wednesday allowing legislators to vote on the Flint funding separately while the state prepares to send Macomb County $3 million in existing funds.

“This was contentious, as you know, but compromise is not a bad word,” said Meekhof, R-West Olive, “and I think we found the right solution that fits everybody’s needs.”

The Legislature will not have to vote on the sinkhole funding, which will instead come from a “priority roads investment program” set up in 2013. Legislators at that time set aside $115 million for hand-selected roads projects before they hammered out a long-term road funding deal.

Some priority roads projects cost less than expected, said a Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman, who added there is $3 million left in the fund for the state and another $750,000 for locals.

“Green is green,” said state Sen. Jack Brandenburg, a Macomb County Republican who celebrated the deal. “I don’t care where it came from. It got done.”

Meekhof opposed sending the county a direct grant for sinkhole repairs, as approved by the House, arguing it could set a precedent and encourage other communities around the state to seek state aid when infrastructure fails for which they are responsible.

“I still have that concern, but… I just think where we landed was the best spot to get this problem solved,” Meekhof said, “and everyone after this is going to have to explain as well why we’re going to do what we’re going to do.”