House OKs $38.8B general spending bill with more for roads
LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan would spend more on road construction, expanded health coverage for the poor and a criminal investigation into Flint's lead-contaminated water crisis under a $38.8 billion general budget bill approved Wednesday by the House.
The 76-32 vote, which capped two days of budget work on the floor of the Republican-controlled chamber, set the stage for further negotiations next month once the GOP-led Senate passes its own spending plan.
The transportation budget would rise nearly 6 percent, due in part to previously approved increases in the state fuel tax and vehicle registration fees that will take effect in 2017.
Other new big-ticket allocations include more than $100 million to start covering a small portion of the cost of expanding Medicaid insurance to 600,000 low-income adults under the federal health care law, and hundreds of millions of dollars to buy expensive specialty drugs to treat Medicaid recipients and prisoners who have Hepatitis C and cystic fibrosis.
Around $40 million would be directed toward the Flint emergency in the 2016-17 fiscal year, including $2.6 million more for the state attorney general's probe that is expected to broaden beyond the charges filed last week against two state regulators and a city official.
"This is a record-amount of money that we've spent on roads and bridges in Michigan. It's kind of a big issue - it has been over the last few years," House Appropriations Chairman Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, said while urging support for the legislation.
Many Democrats voted against the bill, however. They raised objections that included concerns over a company serving food in prisons, funding levels for local governments, staffing levels at a troubled veterans home in Grand Rapids and public money covering Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's legal bills for Flint-related criminal probes.
Democrats also unsuccessfully tried to restore about $60,000 in per-diem and travel expense funding for members of the state Board of Education. GOP lawmakers had stripped the money after being angered by the Democratic-led board's proposed guidance to schools on supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students - including letting them use the bathroom in accordance with their gender identity.
Rep. Kristy Pagan, D-Canton, said she was "extremely disappointed" because board members are "simply doing their jobs to ensure that schools are safe and welcoming for all of our students."
The budget also would:
- train 350 more corrections officers and outfit a state police recruiting school to train 64 new troopers;
- expand dental coverage to people including low-income teens in Wayne, Oakland and Kent counties - which would complete a yearslong effort to make such coverage available in all 83 counties;
- remove roughly $20 million for a call center and advertising that aid enrollment in the Medicaid expansion program, which is known as Healthy Michigan;
- reimburse public and private schools for lead testing undertaken in the wake of the Flint disaster;
- implement an e-filing system to encourage people to file their Michigan tax returns on the Internet for free.
Legislators hope to have a final budget deal by early June, four months before the new fiscal year begins.