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Legislature passes supplemental budget; House appropriations chair resigns in protest

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Tomasz Zajda
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Michigan lawmakers moved forward with a billion-dollar spending plan Wednesday, despite opposition from at least one high-ranking Republican.

The plan would send $846 million toward the Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve (SOAR). That’s a state account aimed at attracting large-scale economic investment.

State Rep. Joe Tate (D-Detroit) sat on the conference committee that considered the bill. He said previous economic incentives have paid off.

“When you look back at last year, and you look at the investments that have been made, these have been significant investments to get across the finish line for not only what we’ve seen in the auto industry but what we’re going to be seeing as well too with other projects that are in the pipeline,” Tate said.

The SOAR Fund first came into being last December when the state sent a billion dollars to the fund.

A press release from the governor’s office sent out after Wednesday’s vote said the move would reauthorize roughly $206 million left from previous appropriations to remain in the fund. Another $290 million of those dollars would serve as additional funding for future use, while $350 million would go toward site readiness.

“In addition to responding to opportunities that happen to come to Michigan, I think we should be proactive and take a look at sites across our state. I call it a mosaic,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake).

The bill also gives $27 million to Thomas Township for sewer infrastructure upgrades to create capacity for a semiconductor production facility.

The legislation would also put roughly $72 million toward the state health department and $15 million toward the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

State Rep. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) -- who started Wednesday as House Appropriations Committee Chair -- resigned in protest of the legislation.

He argued the state’s economic future was too uncertain to justify spending large amounts of money.

“We are in the beginning stages of a global recession and we still don’t know how bad the economy will get in the coming months. We simply do not know if tax revenues will come into the state as we anticipated previously. The wise thing to do is keep money on hand,” Albert said in a statement sent out shortly after he stepped down.

Earlier in the month, Albert publicly criticized plans to spend large amounts of money left unallocated in the most recent state budget.

The announcement created a brief delay in the consideration of bills before Rep. Mary Whiteford (R-Casco Twp) was named as the successor to Albert for the remainder of the term.

“I recognize that every dollar at our disposal belongs to the people of Michigan, and I feel a great sense of responsibility to ensure each dollar is spent wisely to make our state an even better place to live, work and raise a family," she said in a written statement.

In addition to Albert, criticism came from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, who argued sweeping economic incentives like ones supported by the SOAR fund do more to help companies than residents.

“Think about the mom and dad trying to raise a family right now, working average jobs, struggling to pay for higher gas prices, higher grocery bills. And yet, at the same time as they’re struggling, we’re saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to take your tax dollars and give it to some wealthy developers over you,” state Rep. Steve Johnson (R-Wayland) said on the House floor.

Beyond the general government supplemental spending bill, state lawmakers also approved roughly $12 million in new appropriations for an education budget bill. The vast majority of it is for a third-party vendor, Beyond Basics, to help with literacy tutoring and other programs within school districts.

The education budget bill would start the new Michigan Achievement Scholarship for high school graduates with an expected family contribution to college tuition under $25,000. The maximum award under those scholarships would be $2,750 per year.

Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) voted for the bill Wednesday night, alongside 32 other senators present.

“This is going to help a lot of young kids get to college, it’s going to help our economy, and it’s going to be good for a lot of people in our state so thank you,” Irwin said.

Wednesday could be the last time lawmakers gather in Lansing for votes ahead of the November general election. Prior to adjourning, the Legislature agreed to a resolution removing Thursday as a possibly scheduled session day.

There are only three scheduled session days in October. It’s possible no attendance would be taken, and no votes would be held.

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