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Michigan lawmakers unveil, start passing $62.7B state budget

Michigan

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan lawmakers moved Wednesday to pass a $62.7 billion budget that would keep spending flat thanks to a federal rescue and avoid major cuts that had been feared due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The plan was unveiled in the morning and was expected to win final approval by day’s end before going to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for her signature. Majority Republicans skipped the normal monthslong routine of holding committee hearings and publicly offering counterproposals to the pitch the Democratic governor made in February — before COVID-19 upended everything.

Instead, the sides spent four-plus weeks hammering out details in private after coming to a consensus on the budget outlook three months later than usual. The process also was delayed to address a shortfall in the current fiscal year.

The K-12 budget, which the Senate swiftly approved 36-1, would see a 1.4% funding boost. While base aid for traditional districts and charter schools would remain the same — ranging from $8,111 to $8,529 per student — they would get a one-time boost averaging $65 a pupil. Districts with increased enrollment would receive even more.

Support staff at schools would get up to $250 each to recognize their work during the pandemic. Legislators and Whitmer previously authorized $500 for teachers.

The school budget “has so many things that we were very concerned would be” cut, said Sen. Jim Stamas of Midland, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Negotiators prioritized education, he said.

Operations funding for universities and community colleges would remain unchanged, as would state revenue-sharing with municipalities.

The governor and lawmakers agreed to restore funding she had vetoed in March to save money due to the pandemic. There would be $15 million to partially revive Pure Michigan, the state’s tourism campaign; $30 million for a new program the governor has touted to provide financial assistance for adults age 25 and older to attend community college; $28.7 million for the Going Pro campaign, which helps businesses recruit students into the trades and other high-demand fields; and $31.3 million in earmarks, or “enhancement grants,” for projects in individual legislative districts.

Cuts are planned, too. The Corrections Department, citing fewer prisoners and other changes, will in January close a Detroit location that houses parole violators and inmates who need dialysis. The Detroit Reentry Center employs 220 people.

Departments would trim a total of $250 million, largely through reductions in the multibillion-dollar Medicaid budget that would not directly affect services, said state spokesman Kurt Weiss.

The deal would extend for three more months a $2 hourly wage increase for “direct care” workers in nursing homes and other facilities during the virus outbreak. Negotiators also set aside $2.5 million to help the city of Clare replace water pipes after testing last year showed excessive amounts of lead.

Funding also was allocated to hire more marijuana and gambling regulators. Michigan plans to launch internet gambling and online sports betting by late fall.

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