Senate sends $57B state budget to Snyder

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Legislature sent a $56.7 billion state budget to Gov. Rick Snyder Thursday after the state Senate give its final approval following a marathon session in the House earlier this week.

The Republican-controlled Senate approved a nearly $40 billion budget for general government operations — which includes state expenses paid for by tax dollars except public education — in a 26-11 vote mostly along party lines. The separate, roughly $16 billion education bill cleared the Senate 23-14, also mostly along party lines.

Snyder will now likely sign the legislation in the coming weeks. The budget targets more state aid to address potentially dangerous chemical vapors, injects $255 million more to cover the cost of creating a teacher retirement plan that would try to steer new hires into a 401(k)-style savings plan and gives $1.5 million to help demolish the former Detroit House of Corrections in Plymouth.

“The site still needs some obvious attention and is a work in progress,” said Rep. Jeff Noble, R-Plymouth. “The money is being allocated to address those needs.”

The Republican-written document also gives a minor trim to Department of Correction spending, including a cut in housing units at five state prisons because of a drop in inmates.

The budgets passed with little debate in the Senate.

Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, called it “a great product for the people of the state of Michigan” that reflects four months of work and keeps “our overall spending in check.”

Hildenbrand praised it for being conservative while still increasing funding for K-12 education, community colleges and public universities and making another payment to the state’s outstanding legacy teacher pension debt.

“This budget puts Michigan families first,” he said.

Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-East Lansing, said in his no vote explanation that the budget is better than when negotiations started months ago but still comes short.

He called the $255 million for the new teacher retirement system money that’s “being wasted” and called for it to instead be spent on fixing state roads.

The Legislature approved $300,000 more than last year to help mitigate and research “vapor intrusion.” It refers to the vapors from toxic chemicals at old metal de-greasing sites and dry cleaners that can leach up from the ground into people’s homes or businesses — typically in poorer urban areas.

The state Department of Environmental Quality would receive $1.6 million to fight the problem but it’s still short of the $2.6 million that Gov. Rick Snyder and DEQ Director Heidi Grether requested to address the issue.

In February, Grether told lawmakers during an early budget briefing that as many as 4,000 locations in Michigan and many in Metro Detroit might host chemical vapors. Grether called the issue a “significant public health threat.”

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof said Thursday the money is enough for now.

“It’s enough to start,” Meekhof said.

It’s not a new problem. But officials at the DEQ were investigating 14 “high priority” Metro Detroit sites in February where chemical vapors might have been a problem. Thousands of sites across the state could be potentially harmful to human health, the DEQ says.

Other spending increases or changes were scattered throughout the budget including:

■$8.75 million to improve highway maintenance drainage in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties in the wake of flooding.

■$5 million for the development of the Iron Belle trail, which is supposed to run from Belle Isle in Detroit to Ironwood in the Upper Peninsula.

■$3.3 million from a state drinking water emergency fund so a water main can be installed to connect Detroit area or Great Lakes Water Authority-treated water to customers of the Genesee County Drain Commission and Flint.

■$2.7 million in a contractual inflation hike for Trinity’s private food service for state prisons.

■$1 million to fight chronic wasting disease among deer.

An annual $800,000 traffic control subsidy for state State Police patrols at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn was cut more than 9 percent to $725,000. Snyder wanted to eliminate the money.

A reduction in prisoners has also led the Michigan Department of Corrections to cut housing units in five different prisons across the state and a slight overall reduction in spending for state prisons in next year’s budget.

Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Adrian cut a unit containing about 120 beds, an average Michigan prison unit size, said Chris Gautz, a state Department of Corrections spokesman.

Gautz said officials temporarily got rid of most of the units in May to prepare for closing a still-unspecified state prison at an undetermined point in the future.

After that prison is closed, prisoners will be “fed back into the housing units that we temporarily closed,” he said.

Twitter: @MikeGerstein