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Michigan lawmakers move ahead on university, community college spending bill

"What we just did today is historic,” said State Sen. Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth)
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
"What we just did today is historic,” said State Senator Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth), after a legislative subcommittee approved spending on state college and university campuses.

State lawmakers are moving quickly to approve a $250 million budget bill for Michigan’s community colleges and universities.

The joint Capital Outlay Appropriations Subcommittee Wednesday approved Senate Bill 78, which would allocate money for projects ranging from new high-tech learning centers to renovations of existing buildings. The bill passed with bipartisan support.

Some of the projects receiving funding are engineering and aviation facilities at Eastern Michigan University, a new 130,000-square-foot "trans-disciplinary hub" called the "Blue Dot Lab" located at Grand Valley State University’s Allendale campus, and nursing and health technology spaces at Monroe and North Central community colleges.

Tthe projects would cost up to $606.8 million, with the state of Michigan providing $250 million and the institutions providing $356.8 million.

State Senator Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth), subcommittee chairman, said the money is needed.

“We’re going to fix problems. We’re going to grow these universities. We’re going to grow the state of Michigan,” Horn told reporters, “And I can tell you, what we just did today is historic.”

But the bill has its critics.

State Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) was one of four lawmakers who voted against forwarding the bill to the Senate Appropriations committee. He worried lawmakers are not taking the time needed to review each of the projects.

“I want to make sure at $250 million, we are spending the taxpayer dollars like it was our own family budget. Not one big splash dash like this,” said Runestad.

University presidents said the money will bring much-needed resources to their campuses.

Oakland University President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz said public universities and community colleges benefit greatly from state funding and capital outlay projects.

“These are projects that are vital to providing quality higher education that will impact our state’s economy,” said Pescovitz, “Collectively, these construction projects allow our public universities and our community colleges to provide the best possible learning environments for Michigan’s students.”

The bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee. It may change as it moves through the legislative process.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.