Michigan Legislative Update
Week of January 21, 2016
by Judy Augenstein
A sometimes emotional Governor Rick Snyder accepted blame Tuesday at the State of the State address for the state's role in lead contamination in some parts of Flint, proposing $28 million for short-term aid and promising to spend the remaining three years of his administration healing the city's wounds. Governor Snyder's delivered his sixth State of the State address facing circumstances unlike any governor has faced.
The governor, his staff and entire administration are under siege for how they responded to concerns about water quality and lead contamination in Flint's drinking water. The task force Snyder created to figure out what went wrong said in its preliminary findings the main responsibility fell to the Department of Environmental Quality for failing to ensure corrosion control treatment once the city switched from the Detroit water system to the more corrosive Flint river as an interim water source.
During the State of the State address Republicans whooped and hollered to support the governor while Democrats sat in silence for most of the speech. Outside the Capitol Building, hundreds of protesters roared their disapproval throughout the speech. In the 49 minute address, using a prepared text for the first time in the annual speech instead of an outline, Snyder spoke for 15 minutes on Flint.
Governor Snyder also devoted a chunk of his speech to the crisis in the Detroit Public Schools, which could run out of money before the end of the school year and risk defaulting on some obligations to vendors. A somewhat surprising amount of the the speech was devoted to other topics including the creation of commissions to recommend changes to governance and finance in public education and enhance the economy.
Snyder said he is establishing a commission to make recommendations on upgrading the state's infrastructure with a report due in September. Water lines, natural gas lines, sewage pipes, water pumps, electrical lines and more are urgent needs. Snyder plans to issue an executive order requiring MDOT to confer with local officials and utilities on every new road project because that is the best time to fix broader infrastructure, which often runs beneath roads.
Governor Snyder said he wants to create commissions on 21st century education and building the 21st century economy. He put a little more detail on the education commission, saying he wants it to study the many goals and recommendations from the multitude of task forces and studies on education and develop recommendations on a public education structure, governance and finance.
This week the Senate Natural Resources Committee took testimony on SB 651, 652 & 653. The bills are called the "Commercial Forest/qualified Forest Transition Bill Package". Small landowners would like to transfer from the CF to the QF without facing the current penalty. The allowance to transfer without penalty ended in September 2015. Some landowners have been reluctant to make the transfer until something is done to address the increase to present day taxable values. The new "Act" allows for a transition to present day taxable values when CF land goes to QF and removes the sunset for allowing a CF landowner to transfer to the QF program with no penalty.
At the Wednesday Natural Resources Committee meeting the bills were explained by Senator Darwin, R-Evart, primary sponsor of the bills. MUCC submitted a neutral position with concerns, the Department of Ag (MARD) took no position, LSLA supported, MAT supported, MFPC supported, Michigan Biomass supported and GLTPA remained neutral. The meeting was over in 20 minutes, the bills will be discussed again in the near future.