UP projects, schools get significant funding in new $76B state budget plan

Michigan State Capitol building
Michigan State Capitol building(Sara Schulz, WILX | Sara Schulz, WILX)
Published: Jul. 1, 2022 at 6:25 AM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WLUC) - The state’s next budget includes significant spending on Upper Michigan projects.

The Republican-led Michigan Legislature passed the 2022-2023 state budget bills early Friday morning. The measures head to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk for her expected approval.

“I am pleased the budget we approved today respects the people’s money by not increasing taxes,” said State Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Waucedah Township, in a press release. “The budget also continues the practice of investing more in K-12 education, roads and infrastructure, keeping our communities safe, supporting job training, and paying down debt.”

According to a separate press release, two major projects state Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, submitted budget requests for were funded: $10 million for Buffalo Reef for a dock jetty and to dredge harmful stamp sands out of Lake Superior and a $34.2 million state match to replace the D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans in Marquette.

Even with the passage of the $76 billion state budget, Cambensy says she was surprised to see an $8 million blight elimination grant for the former Marquette General Hospital property in Marquette. Cambensy first heard about the grant award after it was already considered a done deal in the budget language at 4:00 p.m. Thursday.

“No one is saying who asked for this funding in the budget for the old hospital demolition,” said Cambensy. “But to have a private entity bump off other community-based projects on U.P. legislators’ lists, projects requests like the Great Lakes Recovery Center or the phase II of the Luce CR paving project from Grand Marais to Deer Creek, it’s concerning. I don’t think taxpayers want their money to go to private developer projects to increase their return on investment. If you want state tax dollars, I think it’s only fair that the community demand that there is full and total transparency of the old hospital project.”

The NMU Foundation says the support for blight elimination of the former hospital site adjacent to Northern Michigan University’s campus is both a welcome surprise and significant milestone in finalizing site preparation and demolition, which is the primary barrier to redevelopment of the site.

“We appreciate the critical support that the state legislature has expressed through this investment in removing a critical barrier for what would be one of the largest community development opportunities in the Upper Peninsula,” said Brad Canale, CEO of the NMU Foundation, in a statement. “We look forward to continuing our work in bringing together relationships and resources to enable a dynamic redevelopment at the former hospital site adjacent to NMU’s campus.”

The NMU Foundation says it has kept city and state officials apprised of the project’s significance and barriers since entering into the Contract for Sale of Real Estate with DLP Marquette General Hospital, LLC in September 2021. The NMU Foundation says this $8 million appropriation is a critical investment in demolition needed for the project to move forward.

Sen. McBroom says the state budget also includes over $75 million in redevelopment funds to address blight; $15 million for economic development in the U.P., particularly focused on housing development; $550,000 for Chippewa County for rail replacement and infrastructure to increase propane storage; and $250,000 for the Great Lakes Recovery Centers for a new facility to provide addiction services.

Other major state budget items that were passed include $693 million in school safety and infrastructure improvements, $47 million for school health centers and $2.65 billion in debt reduction for public employee pensions that will help relieve local municipal and school district budget constraints.

“Getting state legislators to make the largest investment in Buffalo Reef to date is a milestone that should be celebrated by all Michiganders,” said Cambensy. “The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community led the charge over a decade ago for state and federal officials to get serious about developing a long-term plan for permanently cleaning up the stamp sands left after a century of copper mining, and we are taking that first step today.”

On the passage of the $34 million federal match for the rebuilding of the Dominic Jacobetti Home for Veterans, Cambensy credits Majority Chairman of the Military and Veteran Affairs House Appropriation Subcommittee, state Rep. Tommy Brann, R-Wyoming and Minority Chairman state Rep. Ronnie Peterson, D-Ypsilanti, for securing a $100 placeholder required in order to negotiate the funding at all.

“Without my colleagues from Lower Michigan fiercely advocating for the replacement of our Jacobetti Home for Veterans at the beginning of the budget process, we would not have had the chance to negotiate and secure its funding this budget cycle,” said Cambensy. “I’m grateful for their leadership to put a project for our veterans in the U.P. as a top priority of our state.”

Senate Bill 845 includes a nearly $2.6 billion increase in K-12 education funding from last year, moving the total K-12 school support to $19.6 billion. The bill dedicates $630.5 million to increase the minimum foundation allowance to a total of $9,150 per student.

The K-12 budget also includes $305 million in scholarship funding to help address critical teacher shortages facing the state and a $295 million funding line to address student mental health and boost Michigan’s commitment to increasing access to mental health care.

“I’ve pushed for increases in mental health funding for students and stressed the importance of counselors and school-based mental health clinics,” said State Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, in a press release. “The pandemic highlighted the need for larger investments in student mental health, and I am encouraged to see this funding included so we can connect students to resources.”

The K-12 budget also includes $33 million for school-based health clinics, $175 million to support current school employees in earning a teaching certificate, $52 million for grants to help schools address learning loss and a boost to the 10 Cents a Meal Program, which Schmidt helped champion.

The Legislature also passed House Bill 5783, which includes, among other measures, the following items:

• $2.3 billion to help fix local roads and bridges.

• $1.7 billion to fix state highway roadways and bridges.

• $414.5 million to maintain wage increases for direct care workers.

• $40 million for the Pure Michigan tourism campaign.

In addition to funding schools and other state needs, the budget also contains projects specific to Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, such as:

• $1.9 million for Mackinac Straits Health System’s spinal robotics program, including a fellowship-trained robotic spine surgeon dedicated to providing spinal care in the straits area.

• $550,000 to replace 2.5 miles of rail at the former Kincheloe Air Force Base in Chippewa County. The current rail dates back nearly 100 years and provides transportation for propane distribution that assures affordable and reliable energy to the eastern Upper Peninsula and Northern Lower Michigan.

• $35 million in one-time support for infrastructure and maintenance projects at Mackinac Island State Park.

• $14 million for the Beaver Island Transportation Authority to purchase of a new ferry.

“This budget outlines a number of priorities that Michigan families and businesses find important, and also includes funding for improvements to communities across the state,” Schmidt said. “I am proud to be able to bring home dollars to the 37th District. The projects funded will make a big difference for folks across northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.”

Both bills now move to the governor’s desk. This is the first time the state budget is done by the July 1 deadline that was established after a lengthy budget debate in 2019.

“Today, I am so grateful to the Legislature for working with me to pass a balanced, bipartisan state budget that delivers on the kitchen-table issues that matter most to working families,” said Whitmer, in a statement. “This is our fourth bipartisan, fiscally-responsible budget that does not raise taxes by a dime and pays down our debt. The budget will invest in every student and classroom, protect public health and public safety, expand mental health resources, grow Michigan’s economy and workforce, and empower working families and communities. I look forward to working with the Legislature and furthering this spirit of collaboration to invest the billions of dollars in additional revenue we still have on the table to offer real relief to families right now, especially as they face rising prices on groceries, gas, and other everyday expenses. I will work with anyone to put Michiganders first and get this done.”

The Michigan Department of Corrections budget of $2.1 billion includes historic staff investments and enhances facilities.

The spending includes $42 million for economic adjustments related to increased wages and benefit costs for all employees. This funding covers the planned 5 percent salary rate increase scheduled for October. Effective October 1 the pay range for Corrections Officers will be $20.07 to $30.75 per hour. The budget also includes one-time funding of $2.5 million to improve staff workspaces, particularly staff breakrooms and bathrooms, and an additional $2.5 million to support the expansion of Vocational Village programming. Additionally, the budget provides half a million dollars to supplement the current officer uniform with a polo shirt, which is currently being piloted at select worksites.

The budget also includes significant enhancements to technology with $15 million to install secure Wi-Fi networks in facilities to aid staff and prisoners. An additional $4.5 million to deploy body scanners which enhance the safety and security of facilities by detecting prisoner contraband. In addition, $1 million to complete the installation of a page alert system for deaf and hard of hearing prisoners that will simplify staff communications with this population. To support the department’s new technology and research efforts, the budget also provides funding to increase research staff and capabilities.

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