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Snyder budget plan focuses on help for Flint, DPS

Gov. Rick Snyder
Governor Rick Snyder delivering his State of the State address Wednesday night.

Governor Rick Snyder had to push past a throng of protesters as he prepared to present his budget plan for the coming fiscal year. Much of the plan focuses on crises that emerged last year, including the Flint water crisis.

"Drink the water, Rick! Drink the water, Rick! Drink, the water, Rick!” was the chant of protesters just outside the doors. They could be heard inside the room throughout Governor Snyder’s budget rollout to state lawmakers.

What the protesters couldn’t hear was the governor’s efforts to placate them and others who are upset about the state’s late-to-the-game response to the Flint water crisis. The governor said he’s cooperating with various investigations into what happened, but, otherwise, he tried to put that in the past.

"Unfortunately, there are a lot of people spending their time and resources on blame. That doesn’t solve the problem,” Snyder said.

To help solve the problem, the governor proposed spending $195 million dollars in Flint in the upcoming budget year. That includes money for bottled water and filters, to start replacing lead water pipes, nutrition assistance, and other services. He said the state must assume every child in the city has been exposed to lead.

“The issue now is we have citizens in need. Let’s address those issues. Let’s take care of it and let’s address the needs of citizens across Michigan,” he said.

The governor said every school in Michigan needs to be tested for lead in the water, and it’s time to adopt a statewide infrastructure strategy. “We can’t forget that we have lead pipes and challenges in other places in addition to Flint, and it’s time to act on that.”

The governor said he’s convening a commission to come up with recommendations. And the governor, who’s also a CPA, for the first time in six years did not ask for a big deposit in the state’s “rainy day” savings.  Instead, he said $165 million dollars should be set aside as “seed money” for building and re-building infrastructure. He said that can help avoid future disasters like the Flint water crisis.

The governor’s other big spending priority is the Detroit Public Schools. Students are struggling with basic skills, and with half a billion dollars in debt, insolvency looms. The governor says the Detroit schools bailout is a question of pay now, or pay even more later, probably at the expense of all schools.

"If we do not act, this will be an issue resolved in the court system, where the outcomes can be much more devastating to taxpayers of Michigan and the school districts of this entire state,” Snyder said.

The governor’s pushing to use tobacco settlement money as an alternative to the state School Aid Fund to pay for the bailout.

But that’s a lot of spending, and it’s all got to be approved by a Republican-led Legislature. State Representative Al Pscholka is the Republican chair of the House Appropriations Committee. He says that’s not going to be a problem.

“We’ve got some big things that we’ve got to so, but because we’ve taken care of our finances, and done a better job with budgeting over the last four or five years, we can take on the big things and get ‘em done," Pscholka said.

Meanwhile, the chants outside continued,  “Rick must go! Rick must go! Rick must go!” And if Governor Snyder wanted to avoid blame, well, that wasn’t in the cards. Protesters, many of them from Flint, crowded the hall outside the room where the governor was presenting his proposal.

One of them was Desiree Duell, who says she’s a single mom. Duell says she came to Lansing to find out what the governor’s plans are for her city. But she says, there’s not much he could say that would satisfy her.

“What would really satisfy me is if Governor Snyder resigned. He needs to be gone so we can re-build trust with our government,” she said.

Governor Snyder’s budget plan is built on the hope that he can start to re-build that trust without having to quit.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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