1st Friday Focus on the Environment: Planning more equitable investment in Michigan's new budget proposal
ABOUT SARAH ANTHONY:
Senator Sarah Anthony has always fought for equity and opportunity for all Michiganders, including the most vulnerable among us. The daughter of UAW (United Autoworkers) retirees and the first Black woman to serve as state representative in Lansing’s history, Anthony is a champion of working families and marginalized communities. She is the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and is serving her first term in the Michigan Senate.
As Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, she earned a reputation as a pragmatic, effective legislator in the Michigan House of Representatives, where she passed multiple bills into law with substantial bipartisan and stakeholder support. She continues to fight to strengthen education, expand health care, reform Michigan’s criminal justice system and improve the economy for small businesses.
Senator Anthony was born and raised in Lansing’s south side. She has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University and earned a master’s degree from Western Michigan University.
ABOUT LISA WOZNIAK:
Lisa’s career spans over two decades of environmental and conservation advocacy in the political arena. She is a nationally- recognized expert in non-profit growth and management and a leader in Great Lakes protections. Lisa is a three-time graduate from the University of Michigan, with a bachelor's degree and two ensuing master's degrees in social work and Education.
Lisa serves a co-host and content partner in 89.1 WEMU's '1st Friday Focus on the Environment.'
David Fair: This is the first Friday for the month of May, and that can mean only one thing. Welcome to 89 one WEMU's First Friday Focus on the environment. I'm David Fair, and on each of the first Fridays throughout the year, we get together with Michigan League of Conservation Voters executive director Lisa Wozniak, and we bring in a special guest to explore issues crucial to the health and well-being of our environment in Michigan. Lisa, thank you for being our partners in these monthly conversation and always good to have you in.
Lisa Wozniak: It's always a pleasure to be here, Dave. You know, improving the quality of our environment requires investment, and the state Legislature is in the process of wrapping up its budget plans for the upcoming fiscal year. So, our guest today is the chair of the Michigan Senate Appropriations Committee. Senator Sarah Anthony is joining us with some insight as to what is being proposed in relationship to the protection of our air, our land, and our water.
David Fair: Well, thank you for the time today, Senator Anthony.
Sen. Sarah Anthony: Thank you for having me. This is exciting. Thank you.
David Fair: We are still early in this two-year legislative session that began in January. This is the first time in four decades where Democrats have majorities in both the House and Senate, while the governor's office is occupied by a Democrat. Having worked as part of the minority, what, if any, difference do you see in the budgeting process now?
Sen. Sarah Anthony: Well, you know, first of all, it's just an honor to actually serve in this capacity. You know, I served on the Appropriations Committee in the past. But actually chairing Senate Appropriations, it can be sometimes intimidating, but it is such an amazing opportunity. And I think there are definitely some clear differences and how we're crafting this budget in what we now know is a trifecta here in state government. I will tell you we're focusing on partnerships and transparency, right? Partnering with organizations that, you know, can inform the work that we're doing with our state's coffers. And we're also trying to embed more transparency into the process. That can be very difficult, unwinding many of these systems that have really not empowered people to have a voice in the process until we're working at it. But this is, you know, personally, my first budget that I'm overseeing. And we also have significant investment that we are looking to expand opportunities for all Michiganders. So, there will be a difference in how this looks and feels, but I hope it's for the better.
Lisa Wozniak: So, recent polling shows that Michiganders care deeply about priorities that will protect land, air, water, and public health. And I think you've touched on this a little bit, but we know that budgets reflect values. So, what environmental values will this Legislature put on display in this budget cycle?
Sen. Sarah Anthony: You know, I've said a lot that budgets are moral documents. And what you will see, fortunately, is a Legislature and a governor that is value aligned when it comes to, again, protecting land, water, air, our public health. You saw it in the governor's recommendations. And over the next few weeks, you'll start to see both the House and the Senate reflect those values. It is unfortunate that environmental issues really have taken the back burner in the decades before us, but I'm excited that our subcommittee chairs really have taken these issues very seriously. And I think that when we get to the final product, it'll be one that really reflects where we know we need to be.
David Fair: And, Senator Anthony, Senate Democrats have introduced the MI Clean Energy Future plan. It stated goal to help get Michigan to 100% clean energy by the year 2035. That would help tackle the climate crisis while growing the economy at the same time. What are you working on to put in the budget that would support those lofty ambitions?
Sen. Sarah Anthony: Yeah. I mean, you know, it is lofty, but I will tell you, there's been, you know, historic disinvestment. And we know what the future needs to look like. It needs to look like clean energy. It needs to ensure that we have a reliable grid that we are addressing, you know, climate change and making sure that we embed an equity lens in all of these pieces. So, you know, we do have a once in a generation life investment currently. And, at the same time, we know that these dollars are finite. So, what we've been grappling with is how do we ensure that with the one-time funding we have received that we're setting up our state for a generation. It's a very difficult thing. But I will tell you we are looking at ways to incentivize clean energy. We are looking at ways that we can basically set us up for a clean energy future. And that's really embedded in all of our budgets. So. You'll start to see those pieces as we roll it out in the next couple of weeks.
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU's First Friday Focus on the Environment. Lisa Wozniak from the Michigan League of Conservation Voters is my co-host. And today. We're talking with the chair of the Michigan Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Sarah Anthony.
Lisa Wozniak: Michigan is already a top state for clean energy jobs sector growth. How will this budget position Michigan at the front of the pack for available federal dollars and set our state apart as an example for clean energy investments in job growth?
Sen. Sarah Anthony: You know, one thing that I've been challenging our stakeholders and our budget subcommittee chairs to think about is reframing what we think of as a clean energy job. You know, I think that is fantastic that we're already a top state, but we need to build on that, so that we are leading in this area. I think that this budget will position us for additional federal dollars by investing in some of these very smart, clean energy projects. But it's looking at things in the health care system, in our agricultural sectors, in housing, and in infrastructure, in terms of water. There's lots of clean energy jobs. It's just a matter of reimagining our current jobs in our state. But there will also be some retooling that needs to happen. We know our workforce challenges that we're facing in almost every industry. So, how are we retraining current workers in order to, you know, look at our future and figure out how can we expand our footprint in terms of our workforce? That's our current challenge.
David Fair: And I want to mention that, in addition to creating jobs and job training that would put people in those positions, we need to take a look at the industries themselves. The auto industry is transitioning to a future comprised almost exclusively with electric vehicles. It's a transition that's going to require partnership with the state and federal governments and the industry itself for a far more robust investment in infrastructure. Is the new budget going to take us further in that direction?
Sen. Sarah Anthony: Well, you've seen investments in battery plants. You've seen, under the leadership of our governor, you know, the creation of the Office of Future Mobility and Electrification. You've seen the launch of the EV Jobs Academy and the MI EV Scholars program just to, again, help to retool our workforce for electric vehicle. So, you're already seeing those pieces. It's going to be a matter of building on those pieces by fully funding them. And, again, budgets are moral documents. And we also have to balance several interests. But we've already staked our claims in this area. And so, it would be foolish for us not to continue to build and invest.
David Fair: We're talking with State Senator Sarah Anthony, the chair of the Michigan Senate Appropriations Committee. I'm David Fair, alongside my co-host for WEMU's First Friday Focus on the Environment, Lisa Wozniak.
Lisa Wozniak: We know that more state dollars for water infrastructure funding will help control costs for Michiganders who struggle to pay their water bills. But it's not enough, as you know. As we work to ensure that every Michigander has access to safe, clean, affordable drinking water, how do we complement those water infrastructure investments with policy to drive down the long-term rates?
Sen. Sarah Anthony: Well, I appreciate that you approached the question from both a policy and a financial lens because it's going to take both. I mean, it's the number one issue that I hear about in every corner of the state, whether we are talking about very urban areas that have issues with lead in the water or you see suburban areas that are looking at well infrastructure in various areas. This is a statewide problem, and it will require billions of dollars that we don't currently have. But we're looking at ways that we can honestly invest, so that we are not a national shame with things like the Flint water crisis. It's something that you'll start to see, particularly in our EGLE budget of ways that we're looking to improve these pieces, because you're seeing that water infrastructure is absolutely connected to cities' and towns' abilities to provide services for their areas. And you're seeing everything from bankruptcies to, you know, areas that we just absolutely need to be ensuring that every single Michigander can trust that the water is not only clean when it comes out of the tap, but that they actually can afford it. We've already invested our first supplemental invested in water affordability, but that was just the first action that I know this Legislature will want to take on that front.
David Fair: So, the state's new fiscal year will begin officially on October 1st. Do you have a best guess as to when the budget will hit the governor's desk and pass into law?
Sen. Sarah Anthony: You know, I come from local government, and I am fully aware of the fact that when you have a budget that is passed before July 1, it definitely helps with predictability and making sure that services are provided to residents, so our goal is late May or early June.
David Fair: Particularly the school districts.
Sen. Sarah Anthony: Yes. It's particularly for schools, right? So, late May, early June is where we would like to be. But I'll tell you. In this new Democratic majority, I don't want to make sure the budget is done fast. I want it to be done right. And so, taking the time to produce a product that we can be proud of is at the top of my mind.
David Fair: Well, thank you so much for the time and the insights today, Senator. There's obviously going to be occasion for us to talk again.
Sen. Sarah Anthony: I hope so. Thank you so much.
David Fair: That is State Senator Sarah Anthony. She serves as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. And another thanks to you, Lisa. We're always glad to partner with you. And I look forward to our visit in June.
Lisa Wozniak: I do as well. Thank you, Senator Anthony, for your time.
David Fair: Lisa Wozniak is executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and serves as co-host for WEMU's First Friday Focus on the Environment. For more information on today's feature and to visit her archive, go to our web page at WEMU dot org. I'm David Fair, and this is 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.
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