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Michigan Senate passes more budget bills, saves School Aid Fund for Wednesday


Michigan Senate passes more budget bills, saves School Aid Fund for Wednesday

May 15, 2024 | 4:38 am ET
By Jon King
Michigan Senate passes more budget bills, saves School Aid Fund for Wednesday
Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

The Bible says God created the heavens and the Earth in seven days. 

The Michigan Senate may take at least half that long to knock out its first version of the Fiscal Year 2025 budget.

After leaving a half-dozen appropriation bills on the table last week, the Democratic-led Michigan Senate returned Tuesday to attempt to finish the job and push forward their version of the state’s spending plan. And despite several caucuses and recesses, they almost got it done, passing five of the six spending bills that remain, leaving only the School Aid Fund for when they return on Wednesday.

What they did pass were proposed appropriation bills for the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO), the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), community colleges and general government. Also passed was an approximately $1.3 billion budget supplemental for the current FY 2024 budget.

As has been the case throughout the process, Senate Republicans proposed a number of amendments to the appropriations bills, all of which were sent down to defeat. Regardless, they used the process to publicly call out those programs and policies they oppose.

Michigan Senate passes more budget bills, saves School Aid Fund for Wednesday
State Reps. Michele Hoitenga (R-Manton) and Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield Twp.) | Laina G. Stebbins

Among them was state Sen. Michele Hoitenga (R-Manton), who objected to a $5 million appropriation for the Office of Global Michigan, which was included in the LEO budget bill, SB 766. That office has come under fire by Republicans for its Newcomer Rental Subsidy program, which they contend encourages illegal immigration by providing up to a year of rental assistance for “Refugees and other Newcomer population-eligible households,” even though eligibility is based on having a legal immigration status.

Regardless, Hoitenga offered an amendment to divert some of that money for the state’s food banks, citing a recent Crain’s Detroit Business report that indicated demand for emergency food assistance was exceeding the record levels set during the pandemic.

“Despite our governor’s [Gretchen Whitmer] claims, Bidenomics is not working,” she said. “And my amendment is an opportunity for us to help the families being crushed by this broken economy. Instead of providing more money to the office of Global Michigan, which may or may not be using tax dollars to assist people who are in our state illegally, my amendment will increase support for our state’s food banks. Many of these are operating at a deficit due to record demand because just like the people they serve, they’ve depleted their savings under the crush of inflation and food prices. The budget before us does a lot for big corporations, bureaucrats, and newcomers as some people may call them, but my amendment is an opportunity to put the people we work for, the people of Michigan, first.”

Hoitenga’s amendment, one of 12 offered by Republicans on the LEO budget alone, was defeated. All of the appropriations bills passed along party lines, 20-16, with two Republicans — Sens. John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs) and Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) — not present, but excused. In all, the LEO budget came in at just under $2.2 billion, a $667 million reduction from this year.

The other main source of GOP opposition was to SB 767, which appropriated $37.7 billion for DHHS, a nearly $2 billion increase from the FY 2024 budget.

Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) objected to a provision in the bill she characterized as denying medical records to women if they lived out of state.

“My amendment would safeguard existing health and safety protections for women seeking reproductive care,” said Theis. “It strikes a section of language that is utterly inexplicable. This language would take away a woman’s right to receive her medical file through subpoena if the provider refused to give it to her and if she later lived out of state, thereby shielding providers from rightful accountability and leaving patients vulnerable to harm without access to the recourse. Any woman receiving reproductive care should expect the same access to medical information they are entitled to for any other medical care. Our priority should be protecting women’s access to safe health care rather than putting their lives in danger.”

However, the portion of the bill in question, Section 1508, is intended to protect women from other states who receive reproductive health care is Michigan. 

“Except as otherwise provided by law, a provider of health care, a health service plan, a contractor, or an employer receiving funds … shall not release medical information in response to a subpoena from another state entity seeking to investigate an individual who has lawfully received reproductive health care services in this state,” says the legislation, which is in line with a new rule from the Biden administration which would shield the medical records of women from states where abortion is illegal. 

Michigan Senate passes more budget bills, saves School Aid Fund for Wednesday
Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) speaking in support of the MDHHS budget. May, 14, 2024. Photo by Jon King.

That bill also passed 20-16, with state Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit), chair of the DHHS Appropriations Subcommittee, defending it as a step forward for Michigan residents.

“This budget increases access to our health care systems for our most vulnerable constituents by increasing reimbursements to the federally qualified health centers for private duty nursing, speech language providers, anesthesia, and it encourages providers to take Medicaid patients by increasing first time and ongoing office visits,” said Santana. “We are increasing access to mental health services by expanding certified community behavioral health clinics across the state. We provide increased funding for the Michigan Energy Assistance Program and stabilize our water affordability program to ensure that no one in the state is unable to pay their water bill or their utilities.”

Santana added that the budget also expands a medical debt relief pilot program with an additional $8 million, nearly doubling a supplemental appropriation made earlier this year.  She also touted efforts to attack poverty and provide assistance for those most vulnerable, noting a change in how funding for the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program is provided, thus supplementing Michigan’s Family Independence Program (FIP), a change advocated for by the Michigan League for Public Policy.

“We spent TANF where TANF is supposed to be spent, protecting and assisting our most in need citizens,” said Santana. “We expand the eligibility of cash assistance to six years and create a payment program for families that have children from the age of 6 through 13 and increase payments to combat rising costs to families of children under the age of 6.”

The community college appropriation bill, SB 753, proposes to spend $470 million, a $74 million reduction from FY 2024

The general government bill, SB 760, would spend $5.2 billion to fund the executive and legislative branches, as well as the Department of State; Office of Attorney General; Department of Treasury; Office of Technology, Management and Budget; and Department of Civil Rights. Overall, it represents a $182.5 million reduction.

Michigan House passes $80.9B budget, as the Senate is expected to take up its version Thursday

Among the nine budget bills passed Thursday by the Senate were the Department of Transportation (MDOT), Military and Veterans Affairs, and Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).

The Michigan House last week approved its version of the budget in one marathon session, coming in at $80.9 billion, slightly more than Whitmer’s $80.7 billion proposal. 

Once both chambers have passed their appropriations bills, differences will be negotiated out in conference committee. The product of that process will then return to both the House and Senate for a final vote and then be on its way to the governor’s desk for her signature.  

The Legislature has set an informal deadline of July 1 to pass a new state budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct.1. While there are no penalties if they fail to get it completed by then, the desire is to have it finished before the end of June so legislators can go on summer break.