Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal for the coming fiscal year pays a lot of attention to Flint’s drinking water crisis and the state’s infrastructure shortcomings.
Snyder had to push past a throng of protesters as he prepared to present his budget plan for the coming fiscal year to state lawmakers. “Drink the water, Rick!,” they shouted, and: “Fix the pipes!” The chants of the protesters just outside the doors could be heard inside the room throughout Snyder’s budget rollout.
What the protesters couldn’t hear was the governor’s efforts to placate them and others who are upset about the state’s late-to-the-game response to the Flint water crisis. The governor said he’s cooperating with various investigations into what happened, but, otherwise, he tried to put that in the past. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of resources and people spending their on blame,” he said. “That doesn’t solve the problem.”
To help solve the problem, the governor proposed spending $195 million dollars on Flint in the upcoming budget year. That includes money for bottled water and filters, to start replacing lead water pipes, nutrition assistance, and other services. Snyder said the state must assume every child in the city has been exposed to lead. “The issue now is we have citizens in need,” he said. “Let’s address those issues. Let’s take care of it and let’s address the needs of citizens across Michigan.”
The governor said every school in Michigan needs to be tested for lead in the water, and it’s time to adopt a statewide infrastructure strategy:
“We can’t forget that we have lead pipes and challenges in other places in addition to Flint, and it’s time to act on that.”
The governor said he’s convening a commission first called for in his State of the State address to come up with infrastructure recommendations. And the governor -- who’s also a CPA -- for the first time in six years, did not ask for a big deposit in the state’s “rainy day” savings. Instead, he said $165 million dollars should be set aside for building and re-building infrastructure. He acknowledged that’s not a lot of money, but said it’s a start toward solving the state’s infrastructure shortcomings like the Flint water system.
The governor’s other big spending priority is the Detroit Public Schools. Students are struggling with basic skills, and with half a billion dollars in debt, insolvency looms. The governor says the Detroit schools bailout is a question of pay now, or pay even more later, probably at the expense of all schools. “If we do not act, this will be an issue resolved in the court system, where the outcomes can be much more devastating to taxpayers of Michigan and the school districts of this entire state,” he said.
The governor’s pushing to use tobacco settlement money as an alternative to the state School Aid Fund (SAF) to pay for the bailout. Tapping the SAF was a non-starter with many outstate lawmakers. Regardless, that’s a lot of spending, and it’s all got to be approved by a Republican-led Legislature. State Representative Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville) chairs the House Appropriations Committee. He says that’s not going to be a big problem. “We’ve got some big things that we’ve got to do,” he said, “but because we’ve taken care of our finances, and done a better job with budgeting over the last four or five years, we can take on the big things and get ‘em done.”
Pscholka says figuring out a new governing structure for the Detroit schools, which has been under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager for the past six years, is a bigger issue than how to pay for the schools. Desiree Duell says she’s a single mom from Flint who came here to find out what the governor’s plans are for her city. But she says, there’s not much he could say in the budget proposal that would satisfy her. “What would really satisfy me is if Governor Snyder resigned,” she said. “He needs to be gone so we can re-build trust with our government.”
Governor Snyder’s budget plan is built on the hope that he can start to rebuild that trust without having to quit.