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$4.8B Water, Infrastructure Bills on the Way to Gov

March 28, 2022

The House and Senate gave its blessings Thursday to a colossal water infrastructure and quality-of-life supplemental, sending the $4.8 billion spending bills to the governor’s office in the hopes the money will have a generations-wide lifespan in impact. 

SB 565 was introduced by Republican senators in June 2021, kicking off as a $2.5 billion investment into dam construction, PFAS removal and water quality and evolving into a multifaceted $4.7 billion supplemental infusion. The legislation is taking $3.9 billion from the federal COVID-19 recovery funds sent to Michigan and $945.4 million from U.S. Congress’ Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. 

The legislation passed the Senate 34-3 and was opposed by Sens. Ruth Johnson (R-Holly), Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) and Kim LaSata (R-St. Joseph). The Senate also passed, 36-1, HB 5525, which sent $100 million to bolster the Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) and a combined $32 million to investigate unemployment fraud and improve the UIA’s general administration.

After the governor’s expected signature of both bills, around $2.8 billion of discretionary federal pandemic relief money would be left over.

“Well, my first thought is, ‘Oh thank God, we’re finally getting some of this money out,'” said Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills), the minority vice chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee. “We’ve been holding on to so much of this money for such a long time and it felt like we were doing a disservice to the people of Michigan by doing that – so getting more than $4 billion out the door is a good thing.”

Democrats like Bayer and the governor have been critical of the Legislature’s GOP majority for sitting on abundant federal aid — especially as money provided under the American Rescue Plan must be spent by the end of the 2024 calendar year. 

House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell) emphasized $43 million going for dam-related projects, including $15 million for inspection of the May 2020 dam failure and $28.2 million for dam risk reduction loans.

“What happened to the people who live in this area can never happen again,” said Wentworth. “We need to secure these aging dams and replace the critical infrastructure that is crumbling right in our own backyards before anyone else has to experience the struggle and loss our friends and neighbors have seen. This plan will fix the dams, protect local families and their homes, and finally give everyone here some long overdue peace of mind.”

Coalition for a Strong and Prosperous Michigan applauded  the passage of the bill for putting funding toward several “pillars” in its Michigan Prosperity Roadmap, including roads, broadband access, housing and water infrastructure.

Over in the House, SB 565 passed 95-7 with Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Twp.), Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers), Gary Eisen (R-St. Clair Township), Steven Johnson (R-Wayland Twp.), Matt Maddock (R-Milford), John Reilly (R-Oakland) and Bradley Slagh (R-Zeeland) casting the no votes.

“I’m sick and tired of all of this spending. This is causing inflation,” Johnson said. “The definition of inflation is too many dollars chasing too few goods. That’s what is happening here.”

Slagh added that the initial version of SB 565 was much more focused on infrastructure projects, but the negotiated version that passed Thursday had $700 million in social program spending in areas that have already received significant state investment.

“I was not part of, nor given the opportunity to be a part of the negotiation process, I was only provided the opportunity to vote for or against it when it was before me,” Slagh said. “While I try in nearly every situation to work towards a yes vote, in this case, I feel I wouldn’t have been upholding the values my constituents expect from me by doing so, which is why I felt compelled to vote no.”

After voting on a revamped bill sent by the House, the Senate sent investments including: 

  • $515 million for storm water and wastewater improvement projects, and $750 million for drinking water infrastructure advancement projects. This appropriation can be utilized on public health mitigation grants, sewer infrastructure, lead service line replacements, regional water authority, water treatment plant modifications and PFAS remediation. 
  • $200 million in local parks and trail infrastructure grants, consisting of $60 million for recreational greenways in Detroit and $55 million in Grand Rapids. Northern Michigan communities will also receive $20 million for sports-related tourism and other visitor and recreational operations, and $65 million via a local recreation and grant program. 
  • $121.4 million for a homeowner assistance fund to help families experiencing financial hardship after Jan. 21, 2020, distributing funds to fend off the likes of homeowner mortgage delinquencies, foreclosures, displacements or loss of internet service or utilities. The Housing and Community Development Fund will also acquire $50 million for expanding affordable housing programs to those most disenfranchised during the pandemic. 
  • $250.6 million to offer competitive broadband infrastructure grants to boost connectivity in “unserved areas,” with 5% of the appropriation going toward the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office. The office will be authorized to accept eight new employees, and leftover federal broadband grant funding will be available with no extra state resources needed.

Industry: We Have the Bodies

With the state Legislature setting a record spending bill to modernize the state’s World War II sagging infrastructure, a critical question is, are there the bodies to actually do the influx of work?

The chief lobbyist for the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association in effect said, “bring it.”

“The industry has done a tremendous job of hiring over the past several years.  We’ve got companies coming back to Michigan and bringing crews back to Michigan,” to do the work boasts Lance Binoniemi.

On Wednesday, the industry held a job fair and 150 would-be employees showed up to interview with some 50 companies that want a piece of the $4.7 billion infrastructure pie that would go to replace lead pipes, fix more bridges and roads and expand broadband to outstate rural Michigan where connecting to the internet is currently a challenge.

Binoniemi said, “We’re very excited that they finally have come up with a plan that is going to infuse a lot of money into our system and our contractors are happy . . . it’s the most money we’ve seen given to the states and communities” in state history for these projects.

One of the biggest chunks, $1.7 billion for lead pipe removal, aims to avert another Flint/Benton Harbor water crisis in the future. 

“I hope communities are advanced enough to look into that and are able to spend the money to replace their lead lines and avoid another Flint and Benton Harbor,” he said. He believes that, once the governor signs the supplemental budget, some of the work can begin immediately.

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