$1.5 Million For Kingsley Pipes, $5.2 Million For Point Betsie Lighthouse & More: What The New State Budget Means For Northern Michigan
By Beth Milligan | Oct. 1, 2021
Governor Gretchen Whitmer approved a nearly $70 billion state budget this week, including $50.7 billion for state agencies and programs, $2.2 billion for higher education, and a historic $17.1 billion for K-12 schools that was signed into law in July and will boost the foundation allowance for every school across the state to $8,700 per pupil. Local schools aren’t the only beneficiaries of the approved budget; Kingsley is in line to receive $1.5 million to replace lead pipes in the village, while “enhancement grants” will fund improvements across northern Michigan, including sewer upgrades in Mancelona, road and infrastructure improvements in Antrim County around Shanty Creek Resort, and $5.2 million for restoration work at the Point Betsie Lighthouse.
Whitmer said the bipartisan budget represents “the largest investment in K-12 education in Michigan history without raising taxes.” The $8,700 foundation allowance, which marks the first time since 1994 all public school districts will get the same minimum funding, amounts to a seven percent increase for most districts and at least a two percent increase for all districts. The K-12 section of the budget also includes $240 million over three years to hire additional school counselors, psychologists, nurses, and social workers; an increase of $17 million for school-based mental health programming; an additional $74.2 million investment in special education funding; and a $168.5 million investment into the Great Start Readiness Program, which will provide program access to an additional 22,000 children.
Higher education funding also received a boost in this week’s approved budget. Included is a $25 million funding increase for Michigan Reconnect, which provides free community college or job training for residents age 25 and older. Futures for Frontliners, which pays for frontline workers to attend local community colleges tuition-free, also received a $39 million boost. Whitmer said in a release that the investments will “help the 167,000 Michiganders who have signed up for Reconnect and Futures for Frontliners pursue their potential and provide employers with the talent they need to succeed” as the state works toward its goal of having 60 percent of working-age adults earn a postsecondary education or skills training by 2030. Those programs have contributed to new student enrollment at institutions like Northwestern Michigan College (NMC), with NMC President Dr. Nick Nissley telling The Ticker “it’s clear that Governor Whitmer and our state lawmakers value community colleges like NMC and our critical role in our state's future success.”
Beyond schools, several allocations in the budget will specifically benefit northern Michigan projects. Chief among those is a $1.5 million allocation to Kingsley to replace the village’s lead service lines as mandated by the state. Village Manager Dan Hawkins says the funding is “huge” for Kingsley, which had nearly exhausted its grant and other funding options and was contemplating either litigation with other municipalities against the state or significant user rate increases to cover the cost of updating 217 village service lines.
“When you’re looking at a mandated expense that exceeds half of your annual budget, you go into desperation mode,” Hawkins says. Despite Kingsley’s water supply being routinely tested and deemed safe according to state standards, a Michigan law ordering all municipalities to replace any lead services lines or galvanized steel lines formerly connected to lead lines posed a major potential blow to budgets of rural communities like Kingsley, Hawkins says.
“We had exhausted our efforts in good faith trying to get things taken care of, and then (State Rep.) John Roth found a window to open for us,” says Hawkins. Roth helped get the allocation for Kingsley into the budget as part of a larger statewide investment of one-time funds totaling over $45 million for safe drinking water and contaminated cleanup projects. Roth says the funding “will help make Kingsley an even better place to live, work, and raise a family.”
“Clean, safe drinking water is something we all deserve in Michigan – and the Michigan House has stepped up to reinforce that ideal,” Roth says. “We needed action for Kingsley to remedy this situation. I am eager to see the infrastructural gains that can now be made.”
Several other “enhancement grants” will also benefit northern Michigan communities. In State Sen. Wayne Schmidt’s district, which includes part of the Upper Peninsula, allocations include $2 million in funding for the Antrim County Road Commission to build infrastructure and connect Shanty Creek Resort and the surrounding communities, which Schmidt says will be “good for residents and visitors alike.” Another $500,000 will go to Mancelona to pay for critical sewer upgrades. Other district projects include $1.5 million for a new ambulance facility in St. Ignace, $3.13 million for a new Steve Mariucci Family Beacon House in Marquette to support families during medical care, and $1.5 million in improvements to Mackinac Island’s 300-year old coal dock so the island can continue to function and receive goods. Elsewhere, $5.2 million was allocated in funding in State Rep. Jack O’Malley’s district for renovation work at Point Betsie Lighthouse in Frankfort, while an additional $400,000 will be used for a bridge and rail study in Manistee.
Schmidt says other parts of the state budget are also likely to impact northern Michigan, including transportation, bridge, and rail funding. The budget invests $196 million to repair or replace nearly 100 crumbling bridges in serious and critical condition across the state and another $19 million in dam repairs, according to Whitmer’s office. Schmidt notes that a supplemental budget is still to come that will include COVID funding to be distributed throughout Michigan. “A lot of those supplemental dollars weren’t included in the budget to differentiate them as one-time dollars,” he says, adding that he plans to “work hard” on channeling some of that funding into northern Michigan for “transformational” projects.
Whitmer’s budget also includes $164.5 million to make permanent a $2.35/hour raise for direct care workers who have been on the front lines of the pandemic; delivers a one-time $1,000 bonus to childcare workers and expands childcare subsidies to 105,000 children; increases funding for ambulance providers by $54.3 million (notably by guaranteeing Medicare reimbursement rates); and increases Michigan State Police funding by eight percent, including $3.8 million for body cameras. The budget also includes a two percent increase for statutory revenue sharing with local governments and invests $500 million into the state’s rainy day fund, the largest-ever one-time deposit that brings the fund’s total to nearly $1.4 billion. That figure is the largest in Michigan’s history.
Pictured: Governor Gretchen Whitmer signing the state budget into law WednesdayComment