- Michigan Democrats pass first budget, spending down most of state’s $7 billion surplus
- Money goes to rainy-day funds, increased school spending, parks and infrastructure
- Democrats say they added transparency protocols, Republicans criticize process
LANSING — Michigan lawmakers on Wednesday approved an $81.7 billion spending plan that uses most of the state’s surplus to increase funding for schools, roads and parks, the first budget approved by a Democratic-controlled state Legislature in 40 years.
The budget is 6.2 percent larger than last year, and it includes a 5 percent increase in per-pupil funding, $46 million to implement the state’s new early-voting and lawmaker disclosure laws and $950 million in pet projects for lawmakers’ home districts.
Among the highlights: $233 million in water infrastructure projects and lead service line replacement, $150 million to restart the closed Palisades nuclear power plant in west Michigan, $100 million for contaminated site cleanup; millions more for parks and $40 million for affordable housing.
The budget was approved by the House 61-47, largely along party lines, and then cleared the Senate 27-10.
Democrats cheered for the budget, arguing they added safeguards to make the budget process more transparent — avoiding late-night sessions and adding some disclosure rules to their pet projects.
House Speaker Joe Tate, D-Detroit, criticized dissenting legislators.
“We have 47 House Republicans that shirked their responsibility to fund the government,” he told reporters following the vote. “That means defunding the police. That means (no) mental support for Michiganders. That means no infrastructure funding to fix roads (and) lead service lines.”
Rep. Sarah Lightner, a Springport Republican who serves on the joint conference committee, applauded the budget Tuesday night. She argued the deal reflected many of the House GOP caucus’ priorities, such as education funding, mental health investments and money for bridge repairs.
It “may not be perfect, and it may not invest every dollar exactly how we would, but it’s a budget that prioritizes numerous caucus priorities,” she said.
But some Republicans said the process was bloated and opaque, stripping them of a seat at the table. GOP lawmakers said they received only a few hours to review 1,100 pages of the budget before a vote.
Rep. Andrew Beeler, R-Fort Gratiot, told reporters the budget bill was “misprioritized” and said he had little time to review the language.
“This is (Tate’s) budget,” he said. “I didn’t feel like my party had a seat at the table in a sufficient way for me to vote ‘Yes’.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer cheered the passage of the budget, and indeed the document largely reflects the second-term Democrat’s agenda, including $160 million for universal free breakfast and lunch meals in public schools, $1.6 billion in federal funds to expand broadband and $200 million more for the state’s rainy day fund.
Democrats also approved $2 million for Whitmer’s commission to reverse the state’s population loss and $5 million to boost security at the state Capitol and enforce a firearms ban.
That spent much of the $7 billion surplus Michigan had built up, largely through federal stimulus payments and increased tax revenues.
But some items she proposed — such as the $48.4 million in temporary sales tax exemption on electric vehicle purchases and $150 million in an insulin manufacturing program — were not included in the final budget.
Here’s a look at other highlights:
Money for voting
Voters last year approved constitutional amendments to offer early voting for nine days and overhaul financial disclosure rules for officeholders. That would include $18.8 million in ongoing funding each year to cover election staffing and administrative costs and a one-time funding of $27.2 million, according to the House Fiscal Agency analysis.
Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in February sought $45 million alone to implement early voting.
The budget deal includes $288 million in one-time funding for local bridges and other critical infrastructure repairs. It includes:
- $50 million in intermodal capital investment grants
- $80 million in critical bridge repairs
- $3 million for a program to increase contracting opportunities for disadvantaged businesses
- $181.6 million for critical infrastructure projects
Odds and ends
- $6.6 billion for the Michigan Department of Transportation
- $140 million to provide an 85-cents an hour raise to direct-care workers
- $7 million for Michigan State Police body cameras
The budget bill did not include the $500 million-per-year investment into the Michigan Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve (SOAR) Fund — the $151.1 million business incentive fund established by a Republican-led Legislature in 2021.
But a March law already approved $500 million a year from corporate income tax revenue over the next three years.
Whitmer is a champion of the fund and had sought more money through the budget, but Republicans — and even some Democrats — balked, saying it amounts to corporate welfare.