Whitmer signs $1.3 billion spending plan, includes $630M for Ford EV battery plant
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bipartisan $1.3 billion supplemental spending bill Wednesday, which includes about $630 million for a Ford Motor Company electric vehicle battery plant in the Marshall area that the administration said will create thousands of jobs.
House Bill 4016, sponsored by Rep. Angela Witwer (D-Delta Twp.) and passed in the House and Senate last week, also includes about $170 million for the Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve (SOAR), a program that Michigan uses to attract high-profile businesses to the state; $150 million to build affordable housing; $75 million to recruit and retain health care workers; $67 million for nursing home workforce grants; $60 million for community center grants; and $10.8 million for community violence intervention programs and grants.
“Today, I’m proud to sign a supplemental package that will create 2,500 good-paying jobs in Marshall, improve infrastructure, grow our healthcare workforce, and so much more,” Whitmer tweeted. “I’m grateful legislators on both sides of the aisle came together to get this done for Michiganders.”
The $629.7 million for the Ford development, named the BlueOval Battery Park, includes $299.7 million for the project’s site development and $330 million for “community improvements,” the governor said. Those include expanding M-96 from two lanes to four, upgrading intersections and reconstructing interchanges on I-94 and I-69, according to the Whitmer administration. The Department of Transportation will oversee the $330 million, while the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity will oversee the $299.7 million.
Ford officials said the factory is slated to be the first in the country to manufacture lithium iron phosphate batteries for electric vehicles.
The total cost of the Ford project in Calhoun County is expected to total about $3.5 billion, the automobile giant said. In addition to the $630 million included in the supplemental bill, Ford is slated to receive about $772 million in real and personal property tax abatements for 15 years and a $210 million SOAR grant following a vote by the Michigan Strategic Fund, the public funding arm of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
The Ford plant is expected to employ about 2,500 people, who will earn an average of $20 to $50 an hour; average annual wages are slated to be about $45,000, Ford company officials told lawmakers.
“This historic opportunity is an investment in people,” state Rep. Jim Haadsma (D-Battle Creek) said in a prepared statement. “I’m so pleased Ford Motor Company chose Calhoun County and I’m confident this influx of good paying jobs will put people on notice that Michigan is on the right track.”
Two Republican senators, Sens. John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs) and Joe Bellino (R-Monroe), joined the 20 Democratic Senators in support of the bill last week. The House passed the legislation 59-49, with four Republicans backing it: Reps. Phil Green (R-Millington), Mike Mueller (R-Linden), Kathy Schmaltz (R-Jackson) and Curt VanderWall (R-Ludington).
Other Republicans issued vehement criticism of the spending plan.
“This legislation uses taxpayer dollars to fund what amounts to nothing more than a partisan spending spree,” Sen. Roger Hauck (R-Union Twp.) said in a press release.
Addressing a ‘staffing crisis’ in health care
Amid a nationwide exodus of hospital staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, health care and union leaders lauded the $75 million in funding to recruit and retain health care workers. These funds, Whitmer said, may be used to increase wages for staff and provide workforce retention bonuses, as well as for programs that provide tuition assistance, student loan support, workforce grants, and training.
The spending plan includes $67 million for nursing home workforce grants and $63.5 million to increase nursing home reimbursement rates.
SEIU Michigan Executive Director Jennifer Root said in a press release that “nursing homes in Michigan are facing a staffing crisis” and the additional funding will “mean better jobs, higher quality of care, and will benefit all Michigan communities.”
According to a recent survey of hospitals conducted by the Michigan Health and Hospital Association (MHA), there are more than 27,000 job openings in hospitals throughout the state, including nearly 8,500 nursing jobs.
Suicide prevention and community violence
The $10.8 million for community violence intervention initiatives and grants will help to curb gun violence in a state struggling in the aftermath of the Michigan State University mass shooting, advocates said. This money would go in part to community-based organizations working to reduce gun violence across the state, the Whitmer administration said.
“Addressing the gun violence epidemic means applying a holistic approach,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, the grassroots arm of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a prepared statement. “This includes focusing on addressing daily gun violence, which kills far more people than mass shootings, and disproportionately affects communities of color.”
The legislation also includes $750,000 in grants to groups that provide outreach for suicide prevention services.
“We know veterans are 57% more likely to commit suicide than those who haven’t served, and we are doing everything we can to support our former service members and their families,” said Adam Hollier, director of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA). “This investment in veteran suicide prevention in Michigan will provide MVAA the needed resources to begin innovative programs that keep more of our heroes from taking their own lives.”