New: Whitmer budget plan hikes higher ed by 5%, also boosts nursing home worker pay

Proposal provides grants for home plumbing and to replace lead pipes

By: - February 8, 2022 11:17 am

Northern Michigan University on Dec. 10, 2021 | Allison R. Donahue

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s new budget plan will include a 5% funding hike for Michigan’s 15 public universities and 28 community colleges — the highest increase in decades. Universities would have to cap tuition increases.

She also will propose that all nursing home workers stretched thin during the COVID-19 pandemic will receive a $2.35 per hour raise,her office told the Michigan Advance on Tuesday.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Jan. 27, 2022 | Whitmer office photo

“Nursing home workers have stepped up to care for older Michiganders through a once-in-a-century pandemic,” said Whitmer. “They have helped countless families through difficult times, and we should have their backs not only with our words but with our actions. I was proud to permanently raise wages for direct care workers last year and we should build on that progress.”  

Budget Director Christopher Harkins is set Wednesday to present to the Legislature the governor’s fourth budget proposal expected to top $70 billion amid record tax revenue and billions left unspent in federal COVID-19 aid and infrastructure funding. 

Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 starts Oct. 1.

The FY 2022 budget signed by Whitmer last fall included a permanent $2.35 per hour raise for direct care workers “who have been on the frontlines of the pandemic.” However, the budget passed by the GOP-led Legislature did not include raises for frontline support staff, which some nursing home workers said was unfair.

Whitmer’s budget plan proposes a wage hike for all workers in nursing homes, including housekeeping, laundry, maintenance, dietary and medical recordkeepers. Her office said that this will help workers “keep up with rising costs and support their families.”

The total price tag is $265 million, including $60 million for ongoing increases in hourly rates paid for non-direct care worker nursing staff. 

There’s a recommendation for $135 million for one-time bonuses in the current year for behavioral health care workers.

Yimia Williams is a dietary aide at a Southfield nursing home who has worked in the nursing home industry for over 20 years and is a member of SEIU Healthcare Michigan. She said workers felt “disrespected when state lawmakers passed a pandemic pay raise [last year] but did not include essential support workers” and praised Whitmer’s plan for FY 2023.

“For two years, support staff in nursing homes have risked our lives on the front lines to be there for Michigan’s seniors and people with disabilities,” said Williams. “… But low pay and lack of respect has driven a lot of workers out of the industry, making short-staffing even worse and affecting the quality of care our residents deserve.”  

Whitmer also will reportedly propose pay increases for a variety of other workers. Her budget plan will include $500 million in one-time “hero pay” benefits, the Detroit Free Press reported, although it’s unclear who will qualify, and there is $200 million for state employee raises. The governor has a plan for $50 million in bonuses for law enforcement officers, firefighters, first responders and correctional officers. 

There is $2.3 billion over four years to recruit and retain teachers and other school staff, the Associated Press reported. The annual $2,000 bonuses would rise to $4,000 by 2025.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Funds for lead line replacement

The governor’s office also told the Michigan Advance the budget plan includes funds to address lead pipes and stormwater infrastructure.

Since the Flint water crisis made international news last decade, there continues to be concern over lead in water in Michigan communities — most recently in Benton Harbor, where there are three lawsuits to hold state and local officials accountable. 

Lead can cause brain and kidney damage, behavioral problems and death.

In October, Whitmer said the goal is to replace 100% of lead service lines in Benton Harbor in 18 months using state, local and federal resources. The city also received about $20 million to speed up their removal, including $10 million in the FY 2022 budget.

Whitmer’s FY 2023 budget proposal will include $48 million in grants to replace lead lines throughout the state, prioritizing disadvantaged communities. The funds will go toward technical, managerial and financial assistance to “ensure that projects are implemented effectively and efficiently,” the governor’s office said. The process would be similar to those used for the State Revolving Fund and MI Clean Water. 

Whitmer also wants to upgrade and modernize water treatment facilities. The governor’s office stressed that “safe drinking water is a human right.” 

Whitmer’s plan was endorsed by Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad.

“Gov. Whitmer has demonstrated her commitment to getting Benton Harbor residents safe drinking water and we will replace 100% of our lead service with her help,” said Muhammad. “This budget will help our community and many others protect drinking water while creating jobs.”

Volunteers at a water distribution in Benton Harbor Oct. 15. | Anna Gustafson

The proposal, which Whitmer’s office said will “create thousands of good-paying jobs,” also got the thumbs up from one of the major trades unions.

“Replacing every lead service line in Michigan and building up water infrastructure in every region of the state is a big job, but our members and Governor Whitmer are up to the task,” said Price Dobernick, president of the Michigan Pipe Trades Association. “We look forward to helping every community upgrade their pipes, sewers, and water systems, all while creating good-paying jobs for working people along the way.” 

Separate from the budget, Whitmer is announcing Tuesday that the state will continue to provide bottled water to Benton Harbor as lead lines are replaced. This is through the $15 million emergency water fund at the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).

Last year, there was a problem with repeated flooding in Southeast Michigan amid climate change and aging sewer infrastructure. The governor is proposing funds for stormwater system planning, development and restructuring. 

Whitmer also has a proposal for $40 million in home plumbing grants to increase the number of people with structurally sound homes with safe, clean water. The governor and the Legislature would have to work out how to administer the grants.

Funds for schools, mental health, roads, troopers and more

Whitmer’s FY 2023 School Aid Budget primarily funding K-12 schools is expected to be $18.4 billion, more than $1 billion more than the current $17.1 billion budget, the Detroit News reported.

​​That includes a $435 per pupil hike — 5% — with the current minimum foundation grant of $8,700 rising to $9,135.

As the Advance first reported last month before the State of the State address, Whitmer wants to boost mental health in schools. Her $361 million proposal includes funds for more mental health professionals in schools and opening 40 school-based health clinics.

A Detroit Public Schools Community District Priest Elementary-Middle School student on Sept. 7, 2021 | Ken Coleman photo

In her speech, Whitmer called for an increase to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for working-class families and an end to the tax on pension income. While the Legislature would have to pass the measures separately from the budget, the governor’s office said the impact on state revenue will be taken into account in the FY 2023 budget proposal.

Following up on her promise to “fix the damn roads,” Whitmer will propose a $1 billion boost to the Michigan transportation budget for roads and bridges and transit, the AP reported. The nearly 20% increase includes roughly $378 million from the federal infrastructure law President Joe Biden signed last year. The $6.3 billion budget also includes funding from a nearly 1-cent-per-gallon inflationary fuel tax hike that kicked in last month under a 2015 law signed by GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder.

Michigan’s free preschool for eligible 4-year-olds, the Great Start Readiness Program, would see a $38 million increase for a total of $456.4 million under Whitmer’s proposal, MLive reported. She also wants $50 million for before- and after-school programs. 

The budget proposal also will include more funding for the Healthy Kids dental plan, more Michigan State troopers and more psychiatric beds. Whitmer will propose adding more to the rainy day fund, essentially the state’s savings account.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 21-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 4,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 70 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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