Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a $38.6 billion budget bill Wednesday that will more than triple state spending on the water emergency in Flint.
Expenditures on the lead-tainted water crisis will total at least $240 million. That is about $165 million more than the $75 million previously approved by the governor and lawmakers, according to a legislative fiscal analysis.
The impoverished city – whose nearly 100,000 residents have been living under a public health emergency for nearly eight months – will use some money to begin replacing thousands of underground lead pipes that connect water mains with houses and buildings. Other aid will go toward ongoing water bill credits that residents and businesses receive dating from April 2014, when Flint’s water supply was switched to the local river to save money, through whenever the emergency ends. The city was under state management at the time of the switch.
People are using faucet filters and bottled water until the tap water is declared safe.
The spending also is intended to specifically help children – subsidizing child care, providing healthy food to reduce lead poisoning risks and covering psychotherapy sessions.
Snyder has apologized after a task force said his administration was primarily responsible for the disaster because of decisions made by state environmental regulators and emergency managers. The failure to deploy an anti-corrosion chemical at the time of the switch is considered a catastrophic mistake that enabled lead to leach from aging pipes and into homes.
The Republican governor, who regularly visits Flint for meetings and other events, signed the legislation at a state park in Holland along the Lake Michigan shoreline, 125 miles from Flint. It followed his approval of a $16.1 billion education budget earlier in the week that includes an initial payment toward rescuing and restructuring Detroit’s public school district, which is managed by the state.
In Holland, Snyder highlighted new spending to battle invasive Asian carp in the Great Lakes and, with majority GOP legislators at this side, touted the sixth straight year of enacting budgets in June, months ahead of the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year.
“With significant investments in Flint, Detroit, education, public safety and our economy, the budget for the next year provides the investments we need to keep Michigan’s momentum going strong,” he said.
The budget includes closing the Pugsley prison near Traverse City to save money and expanding dental coverage to 131,000 13- to 21-year-olds in Wayne, Oakland and Kent counties, the final step toward implementing the Healthy Kids Dental program statewide. Spending on road and bridge work will rise once fuel tax and vehicle registration fee increases take effect in 2017.
While Snyder’s proposed spending on the water crisis is intact, his call for $165 million to upgrade aging drinking water and other infrastructure across Michigan was scaled back drastically – to $5 million – once legislators received lower revenue estimates. There also will be no deposit into the state’s $600 million savings account.
The Michigan League for Public Policy, an advocacy group for the poor, said the new budget is a “mixed bag.” It applauded the dental coverage expansion but bemoaned decisions to not maximize child care and food assistance for low-income residents by spending state funds to qualify for more federal matching dollars.
League President and CEO Gilda Jacobs said $76 a month in food aid could have been restored for 150,000 households.
“Michigan’s recovery is still leaving too many people behind, and unfortunately, the 2017 budget did as well,” she said.