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Senate GOP Cueing Up $2.5B Infrastructure Package

October 26, 2021

Senate Republicans on Wednesday started moving the wheels on a $2.5 billion infrastructure spending package that includes $600 million to replace lead pipes throughout the state. 

It’s a plan they announced in June.

The plan originally was to use the lead pipe replacement money as a match program, but the discussion now has moved toward doling out money based on need and the number of lines that need to be dug up, a Senate source told MIRS.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has cued up for discussion Sen. Jon Bumstead’s (R-Newaygo) SB 0565, which uses mostly federal COVID-19 relief dollars to also put $680 million into shoring up dams and $635 million into clean water infrastructure and drinking water protection.

The plan also includes money for wastewater upgrades and PFAS remediation.

News on the upcoming Senate action comes as State Budget Director Chris Harkins moved into his new role Monday after a stint in the Senate Fiscal Agency. He isn’t referring to the roughly $7 billion in federal COVID-19 relief dollars as “once in a lifetime.”

From his standpoint, this and the influx of more-than-expected state tax dollars that the Citizens Research Council puts at $11 billion is simply “once.”

“We’ve never seen revenue like this. It’s not a lifetime,” Harkins told the MIRS Monday podcast. “We have never seen the federal government respond in this sort of fashion, and that’s before whether they’re able to send an infrastructure package or another package after that. We are looking at substantial federal revenues.”

The Governor and Legislature are looking at these funds as being a unique opportunity. They need to be spent on “transformational” projects that will set up the state for the next 25-30 years.

Harkins didn’t put a timeframe on when he thought the money would be allocated, but conceded the spending of the dollars could flop over into the next calendar year.

Part of the issue is the dynamic of allocating extra money after 20 years of telling people with their hands out “no.” It will be different.

“We have revenues. We have growth in revenues. It’s fantastic. It’s a good sign, but seeing how that conversation plays out will be interesting as we go forward,” he said.

There is a lot of “commonality” between what the Governor and the Legislature want to sink the money into, but the amounts likely will be a “piece to discuss.”

Harkins, who formerly worked on House Republican staff and was appointed Senate Fiscal Agency Director by the majority Republican leadership, conceded Monday that Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asked him to take the job after Dave Massaron left for a high-level position at Wayne State University.

“The Governor called and it’s a phenomenal job. It’s an important job,” he said. “I think it’s just part of a progression as a budget professional. It’s a great place to be.”

Harkins worked in the Budget Office during Gov. Rick Snyder’s tenure. He said he was not looking to make a move out of the Senate Fiscal Agency, but “when this job is offered, it certainly needs to be considered and here we are.”

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