Legislature passes $82B budget, including record $21B for schools ⋆ Michigan Advance | #schoolsaftey

Lawmakers in Michigan passed a $82 billion state budget for Fiscal Year 2024 drafted by the first Democratic-majority Legislature in roughly 40 years with appropriations for programming in health care, infrastructure, state police and schools, among other areas.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to quickly sign the bills that passed after long sessions that carried into the evening.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks to reporters after presenting her budget proposal to the Michigan House and Senate Appropriations Committees on Feb. 8, 2023. (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)

“The Make it in Michigan budget will build a bright future for our state,” said Whitmer in a statement Wednesday night. “It lowers costs on health care, preschool, meals for kids, higher education, housing, and workforce training. It will help us keep fixing the damn bridges, replacing lead pipes, and protecting public safety. And it will power ‘Make it in Michigan,’ our comprehensive vision for economic development so we can win more projects, invest in people, and revitalize places. I am so grateful to the new leadership in the legislature for getting this done. Let’s keep our foot on the accelerator.” 

Legislative conference committees passed budget proposals Wednesday afternoon and are expected to put them to floor votes later in the day. 

The budget bills received immediate effect, which required GOP votes in roll call votes in the Senate. By passing budgets Wednesday, the Legislature met its self-imposed deadline of July 1.

The next budget year begins Oct. 1.

The budget bills that later passed both chambers consisted of the $57.4 billion general omnibus budget which delegates funding to state agencies and the $21.4 billion School Aid Fund and $5.4 billion supplemental fund which sets up funding for schools across the state.

Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown Twp.), who chairs one of the committees responsible for negotiating the budget within the legislative chambers, said Wednesday as a former teacher himself he’s most proud of the investments being made in classrooms in need across the state and adding funding to programs that will attract educators to the state.

“We’re creating an environment where every kid, no matter where they live, now has an opportunity to get the best education that they can,” Camilleri said. “We got work to do, but I think that sets us up for the future.”

Under the Legislature’s negotiated school funding plan, the per-student allocation would be $458, which is a 5% increase from the previous year. The Legislature’s current plan would maintain the cyber school allowance at $9,150 rather than reducing it like the Senate and Whitmer had requested. 

Funding is also being delegated to a Universal School Breakfast and Lunch program to provide meals to pre-K-12 students, the $160 million delegation was previously approved by both branches of the Legislature and the governor.

School Aid Fiscal Year 2024 budget spending by budget area | House Fiscal Agency

The school funding portion of the budget passed the Senate 29-8, with one member excused, and cleared the House 58-50. 

As the state House took the state agency funding portion of the budget up for a vote Wednesday evening Rep. Sarah Lightner (R-Springport) said that while the budget “isn’t perfect,” based on Republican spending priorities, she’s still satisfied with many aspects of the bill – particularly in public schools.

“One area where this budget shines is a commitment to education that recognizes  that our children deserve the best possible start in life by continuing our commitment to investing in education,” Lightner said. “Since I started serving in this chamber in 2019, we’ve raised the bar every year, ensuring that our students have access to the resources they need to thrive.”

Members from both parties noted the lack of Republican votes in favor of the budget compared to partisan divides of previous years. House Republicans argued that the bill lacked bipartisan support due to the negotiation process, which Rep. Andrew Beeler (R-Fort Gratiot) said left GOP members wondering where their seat at the table was. 

“If this is a negotiated budget, who was it negotiated with?” Beeler said. “When you have, whatever, six or seven Republicans up there voting for it, does that scream negotiated budget?”

Rep. Andrew Beeler | Laina G. Stebbins photo

Republican senators, before their vote on state agency funding, offered criticism that they hadn’t had sufficient time by Democrats to look over the budget, which they said spends too much.

Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) said taxpayers in Michigan will suffer because of this “boondoggle” of a budget.

“Republican input was ignored throughout the committee process. House Republicans were repeatedly silenced and censored … and we in the Senate did not even receive details on this budget until very early this evening,” Runestad said. “We’re seeing plenty of smoke outside the capitol, thanks to the Democrats we received smoke and mirrors inside the Capitol.”

The general omnibus budget, which funds agencies including Corrections, Michigan State Police, Health and Human Services and more, passed the House 61-47 and the Senate 26-10. 

The conference report, among other water health programs, included a $61.4 million allocation for drinking water projects to limit lead exposure in drinking water.

Within allocations made in the Department of Health and Human Services, $800 million would be dedicated to the creation of an Office of Community Violence Services to work towards preventing and intervening in community violence.

In other community-based investments, $1.5 million would be allocated to the cities of Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo and Dearborn to pilot crisis response programs with the aim of reducing police presence in emergency scenarios where law enforcement is deemed unnecessary. The programs would train community-based mental health or medical personnel to respond in crisis situations without the escalation that can occur during police encounters. 

All final drafts of the budget at each step have included cutting boilerplate language that prevents the state health department from contracting with organizations that provide elective abortions or counseling for abortions with state funds.

The state could allocate $279.7 million to increase efficiency of the state’s 10 existing Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic provider organizations, as well as adding 19 new providers to offer 24-hour behavioral health care and rehabilitation to communities.

General omnibus Fiscal Year 2024 budget spending by budget area | House Fiscal Agency

House Appropriations Chair Angela Witwer (D-Delta Twp.) said before the house vote that the budget’s emphasis on mental health care resources is a point of pride for her. 

“We’re supporting those who suffer with mental illnesses with some substantial increases from mental health care,” Witwer said. “Our budget expands our behavioral health care workforce through increased funding, so recruitment and retention will support the education of more social workers. We’re investing in 19 additional community behavioral health clinics. And this is all in addition to the school aid bill’s robust funding for school mental health professionals.”

Michigan began 2023 with a nearly $9 billion budget surplus, approximately $7 billion of which remained at the beginning of the budget process. Democrats said that the surplus, most of which consists of federal funding funneled into Michigan during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowed them to invest in one-time spending projects. 

“Michigan has been sitting on hundreds of dollars in one-time funds from the federal government,” House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) said. “And today we will deploy them to facilitate improvements all across the state of Michigan.” 

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