Legislature passes spending bills funding roads, bridges and school district debt relief

Supplementals also include Highland Park water improvements, Michigan Achievement Scholarships 

By: - November 4, 2023 9:20 am

Road closed due to flooding in Meridian Township | Susan J. Demas

A $615.6 million supplemental spending bill passed through the Michigan legislature Thursday, mostly along party lines. It is now on the desk of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is expected to sign it.

House Bill 4292, sponsored by state Rep. Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield Twp.), appropriates $339.8 million for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 budget that ended Oct. 1, and an additional $275.8 for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 budget.

The bill won approval, in the House, 56-52, with all of the majority Democrats in favor and Republicans against. However, two GOP members did not vote: state Rep. Tom Kuhn (R-Troy), who was present, and state Rep. John Roth (R-Interlochen), who had earlier been excused from the session. 

The Michigan Senate then voted later in the day 21-17 to pass it, with state Sen. Mark Huizenga (R-Walker) serving as the lone Republican to cross the aisle to vote with all Democrats.

Huizenga touted the $55 million in funding for Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids Community College and the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.

“Having a highly educated and skilled workforce is vital to attracting new jobs and investment to our state — and to the future of West Michigan,” said Huizenga in a statement. “These projects are examples of the long-term investments we should be making, and they will help GVSU and GRCC improve and expand their facilities to meet the educational needs of their students for years to come.”

A spokesman for House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp.) told the Detroit Free Press that the GOP “had no interest in being part of their rushed spending plan,” as majority Democrats did not consult with them.

According to a House Fiscal Agency analysis, more than a third of the total appropriation, $234.1 million, is funding from the Federal Highway Administration that will be used for the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) for state trunkline road and bridge construction.

Another $114.1 million would be used for debt relief for local school districts affected by financial emergencies, dissolution or consolidation. 

The districts getting that relief are:

  • The Muskegon Heights School District, which will receive up to $31.3 million to pay an outstanding emergency loan balance, as well as outstanding balances on a school bond loan fund, school loan revolving fund, and other debt obligations.
  • The former Willow Run Community Schools, which will receive up to $19.36 million to pay off outstanding bonds or the balance on a school loan revolving fund.
  • The Pontiac City School District, which will receive up to $18.3 million to pay an outstanding emergency loan balance.
  • Inkster Schools, which gets up to $12.1 million to pay outstanding school bond loan fund balances or school loan revolving fund balances.
  • Benton Harbor Area Schools, which will receive up to $10.02 million to pay an outstanding emergency loan balance.
  • Ypsilanti Community Schools, which will get up to $5.5 million to pay the outstanding long-term limited tax debt held by the Michigan Finance Authority.

Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and Rep. Jimmie Wilson, Jr. (D-Ypsilanti) celebrated the school debt relief, especially for the Ypsilanti Community Schools (YCS) district, which was created in 2013 in a merger of the Willow Run School District and the Ypsilanti Public School District.

“For a decade, this old debt has been soaking up resources that should be going to support YCS students and staff,” said Irwin. “It has been a barrier to offering competitive salaries to attract and retain staff, and it has limited the district’s ability to create enhanced learning opportunities for students. Now YCS leadership will be able to redirect their resources to invest where they should have been all along: in student success.” 

YCS currently pays about $2 million a year to service old debt from the Willow Run School District, which the appropriation passed Thursday will completely pay off.

“I am proud to be able to work with my colleagues to provide a fresh start for our students and our community,” said Wilson Jr. “I know Ypsilanti Community Schools can achieve even greater things now that they will be free from having to spend $2 million a year paying on this inherited debt. Democrats in Lansing have delivered debt relief for YCS and disproportionately impacted local districts across the state.” 

State brokers deal to end unpaid water bill dispute in Highland Park

Another appropriation is for $30 million to fund portions of the agreement between the city of Highland Park and the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) to replace water service lines and reduce water loss, while ensuring accurate water bills through the installation of water meters. 

“It is a good day for Highland Park residents and everyone within the GLWA system,” said state Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit). “Access to water is critical for every Michigander. By providing critical state funding to fix Highland Park’s water infrastructure, we are following through on the agreement reached a few weeks ago and are setting up the whole system for a stronger, more fiscally sustainable future. Highland Park residents have long called for a resolution to this issue and we are very proud that the state has played a key role in leading to this solution.” 

Also being funded are cost increases on various projects around the state including $66 million for a new Comprehensive State Public Health and Environmental Science Laboratory in Lansing, $57 million for the Michigan State University – Renovation and Addition of Greenhouses and Dairy Facilities project and $51 million for the new State Psychiatric Hospital Complex in Northville. 

Another appropriation bill that awaits final approval in the Senate is Senate Bill 174, sponsored by state Sen. Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton).

Among its provisions, according to an analysis by the Senate Fiscal Agency, would be an amendment to the State School Aid Act to provide $20 million in School Aid Fund (SAF) money for FY 2023 for special education reimbursements, along with an additional $5 million from the SAF for FY 2024 to cover costs for Washtenaw Community College related to its involvement in a semiconductor research alliance. 

Another $4 million in federal funds would be used in FY 2024 for the Center for Educational Performance and Information, the agency responsible for collecting and reporting education data in Michigan.

The bill also contains items for the Community Colleges and Higher Education budgets for FY 24, including new language requiring universities and community colleges to repay any Infrastructure, Technology, Equipment, and Maintenance (ITEM) grants that they receive in their January 2024 state aid payments. Those funds would then be reallocated and redistributed to universities and community colleges that certify that they did not receive a planning authorization for a capital outlay project between January 1, 2023, and March 1, 2024. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs legislation establishing the Michigan Achievement Scholarship at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield in 2022. | Whitmer administration

Universities and community colleges would then be able to use those redistributed funds for the purposes allowed under the original ITEM allocations included in the FY 2024 budget. However, that provision would not apply if the bill were to go into effect prior to Jan. 1.

Finally, the bill would change the financial need component of the Michigan Achievement Scholarship. 

Currently, a student’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) must show an expected family contribution (EFC) of less than $25,000 to qualify for the scholarship. Because the FAFSA is moving toward a new metric called the student aid index (SAI), the bill would replace the $25,000 EFC limit with a $30,000 SAI for a student who does not have any immediate family members who are also attending a college or university.

It would also allow the Treasury Department to establish an SAI limit of at least $30,000, but potentially higher, for students who have another immediate family member attending a college or university.


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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King is the Senior Reporter for the Michigan Advance and has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2022 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell.