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Issues of the Environment: Michigan lawmakers face challenges in creating new budget

Felicia Brabec
Michigan House Democrats
/
housedems.com
Michigan State Rep. Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield Township)

Overview

  • The Democratic-led state House’s budget proposal left out some of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s top priorities Lawmakers have so far skipped Whitmer’s proposed landfill fee hike and EV rebates.
  • The House budget plan would put additional money into water infrastructure and wetland restoration efforts.
  • Budget negotiations between the State House and Senate are underway. By law, a budget must be passed by October 1st, but it’s on track to be approved and signed into law by the end of June.

Transcription

David Fair: The Michigan Legislature is wrapping up budget negotiations and will send it on to Governor Gretchen Whitmer before the end of June. At least, that's the goal. It appears some environmental initiatives proposed by the governor herself may be cut--may be changed--when all is said and done. I'm David Fair, and welcome to this week's edition of 89 one WEMU's Issues of the Environment. Our guest has been working on the budget for months now and can offer us some insight as to where we are. Felicia Brabec is 33rd District state representative. The Pittsfield Township Democrat is chair of the House Appropriations General Government Subcommittee and a member of the Environment, Great Lakes and Energy Appropriations Subcommittee. It is always good to talk with you, Representative Brabec!

Rep. Felicia Brabec: David, so happy to be here! And I love Issues of the Environment! And I'm so excited to talk budget and get into these really, really important issues impacting folks throughout the state!

David Fair: So, as we talk about what is about to happen, ultimately, we don't really know because you're entering reconciliation between the House and Senate budgets, right?

Rep. Felicia Brabec: You got it! So, where we are right now is we voted no on the budget that the Senate sent over to us, and that triggers what's called conference. And so now, we will go into that negotiation period where we have representatives in the House, the Senate and the governor's team all kind of come together to say, "Okay, what's the best version we want to then offer the chambers?"

David Fair: Well, going back to the governor's initial $80.7 billion budget proposal, there were some really popular environmental proposals included in there, some of which are potentially unlikely to make it into the final budget you received from the Legislature. There was a proposal to fund electric vehicle rebates in Michigan to entice more people to buy and move us towards cleaner energy. What went into the House decision to drop funding for that program?

Rep. Felicia Brabec: Yeah. So, there is still funding in different ways, both infrastructure and vehicles themselves. But what I think what's really important to remember is we have an amazing chair, Rachel Hood from the Grand Rapids area, who is an environmental expert in my opinion. This is her budget. And she has taken a look at where we need to put money towards, where we need to pull back and shift money, although there is desire to be able to support allocations like the governor put in. Sometimes, there's also not the numbers to do that. And so, decisions have to be made and this is one that the chair made and presented to us. And we agreed with that. Okay, here's where we are right now with it. It doesn't mean that it might not increase, that it might not change. But, at least, right now, this is where things are. And we just go from there in terms of the negotiation. So, like you said at the beginning, where we are now is not where we're going to end up. And that is a very fluid conversation right now.

David Fair: This is Issues of the Environment on 89 one WEMU. And we're talking about the upcoming state budget with State Representative Felicia Brabec. I wanted to talk about an environmental issue that, personally, I think fails to garner enough attention. Michigan enjoys an abundance of riches in so many ways, but it also has an abundance of landfill space, which makes it attractive to other states and Canada to ship all their garbage here. The governor's proposal would have increased tipping fees for trash from the current $0.36 per ton, up to $5 per ton. Why has that been removed from the House version?

Rep. Felicia Brabec: Again, I don't want to speak for the chair, but what I can tell you is that there was lots of conversations about this and trying to figure out what's the best way forward. I know it's an ongoing conversation because exactly what you said, David, we have an issue with Michigan being literally a dumping place and a dumping ground. And what are the implications of that, not only environmentally, but there are also implications of that in terms of other, like what's happening in other municipalities and other areas and other budgets, frankly, actually that touch that. So, I know that that this is an ongoing tricky conversation to figure out the balance. And I know that Chair Hood is continuing to work on that and to figure out what's the best response. Where is the best balance point for not continuing to be known in the Midwest as the Midwest dumping ground? Where can we and how can we best regulate that and take care of the residents, but also be aware of the environmental impacts? So, there are very practical issues. There are financial issues or environmental issues. And so, this is an issue that is getting continued scrutiny and attention.

David Fair: And will continue to be revisited in the years to come.

Rep. Felicia Brabec: That's right.

David Fair: I do also want to talk about perhaps one of the issues that is of most important in the state of Michigan, and that is water quality and water infrastructure. It is one of the areas most in need of investment. Is that going to be reflected in what you think the final budget is going to look like?

Rep. Felicia Brabec: David, let me tell you what we're up against. And the numbers are staggering. We, right now, in this moment in time, have $19 billion with a "B," water infrastructure repair backlog project--$19 billion in our state. $5 billion of that is for lead service replacement lines, some of which are under consent decree, which means the clock is ticking, and we really need to address those. And so, the need is immense. We would be remiss if we didn't think about how that then pairs with road infrastructure. And we know that, with road infrastructure, we have about $14 billion, again with a "B," backlog on road repair or replacement.

David Fair: And all the one-time money has dried up for infrastructure.

Rep. Felicia Brabec: You got it! That's exactly right! And so, when we're thinking about just the magnitude of those numbers, but also what that means for our residents, we need to be really intentional and smart about not only how we're funded, but how we're doing that work. And so, when we're tearing up a road and we're replacing a road, we also need to be doing the water infrastructure work. Financially, when we think about how to pay that, we're building those capital stacks. We have water infrastructure money. We have road money. But then, that also allows us to kind of leverage some federal funds. So, the chair and I have talked a lot about the need to be really intentional about our water infrastructure, what that means for our roads and what that means just for mobility in general in transit. I mean, a fellow Washtenaw County rep is Jason Morgan. Rep. Jason Morgan is really, really passionate about transit and working on that. And so, all of these things are connected. And I would be remiss, David, if I didn't mention that we had a clean water bond--a 20-year clean water bond--that ended in 2022. And the governor appropriated the last, I believe it was, $290 million. So, we don't have those funds coming in, as you talk about know where are there funding streams. We don't have that funding stream anymore. You know, I know that that's something that's just part of the solution. But we have to think about what are all the pieces of the puzzle that we put together to be able to fund water infrastructure, fund our roads, fund mobility and then be able to to do that intentionally and in concert with one another, so that we're not doing these projects and having to pay twice for them. That makes no sense.

David Fair: We're talking with State Representative Felicia Brabec on 89 one WEMU's Issues of the Environment. And it has been said, "Show me your budget, and I'll show you your values." What will the new fiscal year budget say about our values in Michigan in 2024/25?

Rep. Felicia Brabec: And so, what I'm really proud of is that I believe when I look at the budget, it's putting people first. You know, being able to bring those appropriations home to our local municipalities. And it shows up in a variety of ways, whether that's in EGLE, like we just talked about with water infrastructure money, whether it's in the budget that I get to work on, about elections or civil rights, being able to really think about what our residents need. It was the frame through which we looked at all of these budget questions. And that's where we landed: putting Michiganders first.

David Fair: It is always the goal to have the budget completed and signed into law prior to July 1st when the new fiscal year begins for public schools, universities and colleges. Best guess. Is that going to be met?

Rep. Felicia Brabec: All indications say yes, David. Yup, we are on schedule and hoping to be able to meet that goal and hand that to the governor. We had a chance to be able to talk with her about it. And there was kind of this rumor that the budget was going to be signed at the Mackinac Policy Conference. And we were all saying, "Gosh, we would have loved that!"

David Fair: Oh, right!

Rep. Felicia Brabec: We would have loved that. But we talked about where we are, and we're in a great position to hand this budget to the governor to sign for the folks of Michigan.

David Fair: Well, thank you so much for the time today. I appreciate the insight into the budget process, and we'll look forward to seeing the final result!

Rep. Felicia Brabec: Yeah, me too, David! Thanks so much for having me! It's always a pleasure to talk with you!

David Fair: That is Democratic state lawmaker Felicia Brabec. She is 33rd District representative from Pittsfield Township and chair of the Michigan House Appropriations General Government Subcommittee. For more information on our Issues of the Environment discussion, pay a visit to our website when you get a chance. It's wemu.org. Issues of the Environment is produced in partnership with the office of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner. And you hear it every Wednesday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.

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