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1st Friday Focus On The Environment: A Conversation With Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer
State of Michigan
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer

In her first few months in office, Governor Gretchen Whitmerhas made infrastructure and clean water among her top priorities.  Whitmer outlines her environmental strategy and budget with 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and Michigan League of Conservation Votersexecutive director, Lisa Wozniak. 

Credit Michigan League of Conservation Voters / michiganlcv.org
Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters

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 Bachelors Degree and two ensuing Masters 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.' 

Included in Governor Whitmer’s budget (FY 19 Supplemental + FY 20):  

$120 million for a new Drinking Water Protection and Innovation Initiative (general fund) to be used for lead and copper rule implementation, response to PFAS and emerging contaminants, drinking water revolving fund loan support, affordability and planning initiatives, and research and innovation activities.

$9.8 million to modernize and enhance core programmatic systems dedicated to protecting the environment and the health of residents.  These funds will be allocated from the Information Technology Investment Fund (ITIF) in the budget for the Department of Technology, Management, and Budget.  The ITIF supports information technology projects that lead to transformative change in state service delivery and the modernization of legacy systems.

$27.9 million for Air Quality ($6 million general fund) to ensure that Michigan’s air remains clean by regulating sources of air pollutants to minimize adverse impacts on human health and the environment.

$120 million for the State Revolving Fund ($5 million general fund), a low interest loan program that assists qualified municipalities with the construction of water pollution control facilities.

$54.9 million for Petroleum Cleanup Programs (restricted) to support the management and reduction of risk at thousands of sites contaminated by refined petroleum products.  The funds support both owner and state cleanup efforts.

And in the Department of Natural Resource’s proposal...

$2.3 million for Chronic Wasting Disease (general fund).  $2 million in one-time funding will be devoted to research on the transmission, spread, and prevention of the disease, and $300,000 in ongoing funding is provided to cover laboratory costs associated with the increase in the number of deer tested for the disease.

$1.4 million for an Inventory of Hazardous Liquid Pipelines (one-time general fund).  The inventory will include pipelines that cross waterways in Michigan and will be used to determine priority water crossings needing attention to prevent environmental harm.

21.4 million for state and local recreational boating projects, snowmobile trail and equipment upgrades, and trail enhancements funded from additional gasoline tax revenue to be deposited in the constitutionally designated Recreation Improvement Account as a result of the Governor’s transportation plan.

$44.8 million for Conservation Officers ($12.5 million of which is general fund) to protect the state’s natural resources, provide law enforcement in rural communities, and promote public safety.  The funding supports approximately 250 fully commissioned state peace officers, with full power and authority to enforce Michigan’s criminal laws, especially those concerning outdoor recreational activities.

$5.1 million general fund for an Invasive Species Program to prevent, detect, eradicate, and control aquatic and terrestrial invasive species.

$1 million general fund for the Michigan Conservation Corps, a summer at-risk youth program in Detroit, Pontiac, Flint, and Saginaw to expose young people to the outdoors while they learn job skills and develop career plans.

And in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s proposal...

$4 million for Double Up Food Bucks (general fund) to increase the purchasing power of residents who receive food assistance by providing a dollar-to-dollar match to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at participating grocery stores and farmer’s markets.  This funding along with private dollars will leverage federal funding to expand the program statewide.

$200,000 to Create a permanent Emerging Contaminants Coordinator Position (general fund) responsible for providing outreach and education to farmers, local health departments, food service establishments, and local conservation districts on emerging contaminant issues as they relate to plants, dairy, meat, and animal feed.

$10.2 million for Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program and Environmental Stewardship ($1.0 million general fund) to support conservation district grants to educate farmers on environmental risk prevention and simplify compliance with state and federal agriculture laws.

And in the Department of Health and Human Service’s proposal...

$13.9 million for Environmental and Public Health hazards response (general fund) to allow DHHS to more effectively monitor and respond to environmental public health threats and to expand laboratory capacity to investigate the potential contamination of public water and food sources and assess their effects on human and community health

 $8.1 million in continuing funding for programs addressing the Flint water emergency (general fund).  Funding supports a variety of efforts for Flint residents including lead abatement activities, lead poisoning prevention programs, early childhood home visiting initiatives, nutritional programs, and health care services for children potentially exposed to lead.  Of the $8.1 million, $5.2 million is appropriated on an ongoing basis, while another $2.9 million in designated as one-time funding.

And, there are investments that benefit the environment in a few unexpected budgets as well....

Higher Education and School Aids Budget

$61.5 million to support water infrastructure in older school buildings by replacing drinking fountains with hydration stations that filter contaminants from water.  Funding will be distributed beginning in fiscal year 2019.

$45.6 million in additional university operations funding (general fund), representing a 3 percent increase compared to fiscal year 2019, the largest increase since fiscal year 2015.  This increase will be distributed across the board to provide planning stability for universities.  Receipt of the funding increase is contingent on universities holding tuition increases below 3.2% or $427, equal to projected inflation plus one percentage point, in order to limit tuition cost increases for students and families.  This investment also includes a 3% increase for MSU AgBioResearch and MSU Extension.

Explanation: Michigan’s Universities serve as some of the state’s best resources on innovation and research in the environmental sector.  In addition to the overall increase, this budget includes a 3% increase to the MSU Extension program that focuses it’s work on the nexus of fresh food and our natural resources. 

A total of $110 million is recommended for the new Michigan Reconnect Grant Program (funded from the Talent Investment Fund).  These funds are being recommended in a fiscal year 2019 supplemental and are expected to be sufficient to support the program through fiscal year 2021.

Explanation: The Michigan Reconnect program can be used by individuals who are looking to get retrained and start work in the skilled trades like manufacturing and installing solar arrays and wind turbines, getting certified to conduct weatherization assessments and improvements or getting retrained on a new skill after they are displaced from coal plant closures.

$507 million in investment for a new, restructured weighted funding model that includes a base per-pupil amount plus additional funding for students with more costly educational needs: $50 million to provide an estimated $487 per career and technical education pupil (6 percent of the state minimum foundation allowance).  This brings total funding for this purpose to $55 million and will help support the higher costs of materials, equipment, and staff for career and technical education courses.

Explanation: The demand for sustainability has created two parallel workforce phenomena— the development of new careers in the green industry, such as solar panel installers and wind turbine technicians; and the “greening” of all other jobs. Many jobs in green industries use the same technical skills as existing industries, but with skilled-worker shortages in areas like engineering, manufacturing and construction technology, the new jobs often lack qualified applicants.  For example, the demand to make buildings more energy efficient increases the need for insulation workers, carpenters, roofers, building inspectors, construction managers and electricians.  The sustainability industry has the power to dramatically revive employment in many areas around the country as green-collar careers can replace the jobs of workers in areas with stagnant job growth or layoffs.

Department of Transportation Budget

In addition to the existing funding given to transit, rail and mobility in the PA 51 formula, our new Fixing Michigan Roads fund allocates 3% of the new revenue ($38.5M) for Multi-modal uses across the state.

$3 million to support intelligent transportation systems and other various small innovative information technology solutions that will increase efficiency.

Explanation: This funding helps Michigan move towards a philosophy of moving people, instead of moving cars protects the environment.  The transportation sector is one of the largest contributors to anthropogenic U.S. GHG emissions.  Investing in multi-modal transportation, electrification and autonomous technologies will help Michigan address climate change.

State Budget

$5 million to begin implementation of Proposals 2018-2 and 2018-3 (general fund). These funds are recommended as a fiscal year 2019 supplemental appropriation.  Proposal 2018-2 established an independent citizens commission to draw legislative and congressional maps.  Proposal 2018-3 added voting rights provisions to the Michigan constitution, including same day registration, no-excuse absentee voting, and straight party voting

$4.6 million for ongoing Proposal 2 redistricting operations (general fund).  This funding is recommended for fiscal year 2020 to support commission operations and commissioner compensation.  This amount represents the constitutionally required appropriation level.

$7.8 million for Election Services to provide assistance at the county level, affecting 5,000 precincts statewide and over 7.5 million registered voters in Michigan.

Explanation: Environmental change can happen on the individual level but needs to be mirrored at the systemic level. Investing in our elections infrastructure and ensuring that all Michigan residents have a voice in the political process is vital to addressing long term environmental challenges.

Talent and Economic Development Budget

$105.4 million for Business Attraction and Community Revitalization ($77.8 million general fund) to incentivize job creation, investment, and revitalize blighted properties.

$10.2 million for Arts and Cultural Programs to support placemaking and vibrant communities. A total of $9 million is from the general fund.

Explanation: Placemaking and investment the communities where people live, work and play helps strengthen the connection between people and their environments (whether that’s a natural area or their own neighborhood).

$27.9 million for Going Pro (all general fund) to provide job training grants to businesses to support training for current and new employees in high-demand, skilled trades industries.

Explanation: See above comments for reconnected and the new weighted school aid formula for CTEs.

Revenue Sharing

$2.5 million for the Community Opportunities for Renewal grant program, for a total of $5 million, to support local projects targeting infrastructure, public safety, blight removal, and other community revitalization efforts

An overall increase of 3.2% in constitutional revenue sharing.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
Lisa Wozniak is Executive Director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.
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