Print Friendly and PDF

Dec. 3 | This Week in Government: $3.3B Water Infrastructure Supplemental Clears Senate; Jobless Rates Decline In October, Still Above Pre-Pandemic Numbers

Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, will provide members with a collection of timely updates from both local and state governments. Stay in the know on the latest legislation, policy priorities, and more.

  1. $3.3B Water Infrastructure Supplemental Clears Senate
  2. Jobless Rates Decline In October, Still Above Pre-Pandemic Numbers
  3. Biz Groups Praise New Economic Incentive, Semiconductor Shortage Bills
  4. Whitmer Signs High-Speed Internet Collaboration Directive For State Depts.
  5. House Adds Funds For School Security To $368.5M Police Supplemental

$3.3B Water Infrastructure Supplemental Clears Senate

Billions in spending to provide what supporters called a historic effort to rebuild the state’s water infrastructure moved one step closer to assisting communities following unanimous passage by the Senate on Thursday.

SB 565– which passed 34-0 – includes $3.34 billion in supplemental funding focusing on water infrastructure including funding for lead line replacements, dam repairs and other water projects.

Total funding for lead line replacement amounts to $1 billion within the bill.

Federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act are included in the spending plan with a total of $680 million included for dams with $250 million to repair the dams in Midland County damaged during 2020 flooding.

Another $400 million would be provided to the Great Lakes Water Authority for sewer and water upgrades.

Within the bill a $15 million fund would be created to assist Detroit residents with sewer connections and to check valves. This would be in response to summer flooding in Detroit that caused significant damage.

Bill sponsor Sen. Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo) said prior to the vote the bill would “protect and enhance all our communities across the state” as well as a historic use of funding for infrastructure improvement.

Bumstead told reporters Thursday that Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, had done a great job in helping develop the proposal and get it to this point.

“What’s the most challenging? I think finding a way to make it fair across the whole state … making sure it’s divided equally,” Bumstead said, adding it was also huge to get unanimous support for such a large bill containing so much money.

Stamas told reporters the lead line replacement funding would be distributed through existing water programs.

When asked about how conversations have gone with the administration regarding the supplemental, Stamas said discussions with the administration will continue.

“This is the first chamber,” Stamas said. “We look forward to working with both the House and the governor’s office to get this across the line. We have to start somewhere, so we put, I think, an amazing step forward.”

Both senators said the funding for repairing, removing or replacing aging dams was a critical component of the bill.

“It goes a long ways,” Bumstead said. “This bill doesn’t address everything, but this is a good start.”

The Michigan Dam Safety Task Force in its final report containing a review of the state’s dam infrastructure found that about 80 percent of the state’s 2,600 dams are older than the peak 50-year design life span and many tend to exceed their spillway capacities for projected storm flows.

Charlotte Jameson, chief policy officer for the Michigan Environmental Council, in a Twitter statement praised the Senate vote.

“Putting dollars to work improving our drinking, sewer and storm water infrastructure is a no-brainer. The passage of this bill shows Senators understand safe, clean water is of utmost importance to Michiganders,” Jameson said.

Nick Occhipinti, government affairs director with the Michigan League of Conservation voters, echoed those sentiments in a statement.

“Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure poses a direct threat to the health and safety of our communities, and the future of our state’s economy, so we must harness the real opportunity in these federal stimulus packages to reinvest and fund our water,” Occhipinti said.

PROMISE ZONES: Passing by a 32-2 vote was SB 99, which would amend the Promise Zone Authority Act to allow for on-campus higher education room and board expenses to be included on the list of qualified expenses under the act.

Bill sponsor Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills) prior to the vote said the bill allows the option for Promise Zone boards to decide if some of the funding through the program can be directed to room and board costs.

ORGAN DONORS: Legislation that would allow for HIV positive patients to receive an HIV positive, donated organ, HB 4521, passed by a 34-0 vote.


Jobless Rates Decline In October, Still Above Pre-Pandemic Numbers

The October regional jobless rates declined in all 17 of Michigan’s major labor markets, with a median decrease of 0.7 percentage point.

However, regional employment levels remain below October 2019, with the U.S. Department of Labor reporting a median decline of 6.5 percent over the last two years, the report released Wednesday by the Department of Management, Technology and Budget showed.

Eleven regional employment levels increased, with a median advance of 0.8 percentage point, and five regions exhibited employment decreases over the month, with employment remaining unchanged in the Muskegon area.

“Jobless rates declined in all major Michigan labor markets in October, although labor force levels were generally down over the month,” Wayne Rourke, associate director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives, said in a statement. “Payroll job levels advanced in most metro areas in October.”

Twelve regions had workforce levels decline over the month, with a median decrease of 0.7 percentage point. The largest cut was in the northwest lower Michigan region, which includes Charlevoix, Leelanau and Grand Traverse Counties, with the report attributing the change to the end of the tourism season.

October payroll jobs increased in 12 metro areas, with a median increase of 1.1 percent. Lansing metro area reported the largest job addition, up 2.2 percent, thanks to recalls from layoffs in the auto sector and a seasonal job advance in public education.

Eighty-two counties displayed jobless rate declines over the month. Livingston County reported the lowest unemployment rate at 2.8 percent. Mackinac county reported 3.2 percent and Oakland County reported 3.3 percent unemployment. Roscommon County had the highest unemployment rate, coming in at 7.9 percent. Montmorency County had a rate of 7.8 percent unemployment and Lake County had a rate of 7.3 percent unemployment. Ingham County was in the top 40 lowest rates, reporting 4.8 percent.

September numbers were revised for not seasonally adjusted unemployment rates, increasing the rate by 1.7 percentage points to 5.5 percent. The median jobless rate was also revised, reflecting the upward median change of 1.2 percentage points.

In the release, the U.S. Department of Labor said it adjusted its statistical model to identify outliers on a monthly basis rather than annually because of the pandemic’s impact on employment and recent updates from the southeast region of the state required further intervention from the department.

“The Bureau of Labor Statistics implemented a level shift due to an outlier identified in the Current Population Survey input to the Detroit-Warren-Dearborn metro area unemployment model in January 2021,” agency officials stated. “This adjustment produced some distortions in the benchmarking factors used for Michigan, the Detroit metro area, and the Balance of Michigan. To reduce these distortions, BLS has modified this outlier intervention with the publication of September revised and October preliminary estimates.”

Revised estimates for January through August 2021 will be completed by March 2022 and comparisons between 2020 and 2021 will be analyzed once the revisions are released. September and October 2021 can be compared for all months of 2020 and prior years, the report said.


Biz Groups Praise New Economic Incentive, Semiconductor Shortage Bills

A series of bills seeking to assist the state in attracting and keeping jobs while also addressing the semiconductor shortage hitting the auto industry were introduced Thursday in both the House and Senate.

The bills come in the wake of the global semiconductor shortage that has limited the supply of microchips auto manufacturers need to finish vehicle production.

HB 5601, referred to the House Tax Policy Committee, would provide tax credits for research and development related to semiconductors, advanced automotive projects such as electric battery technology, and life sciences beginning January 1, 2022.

Tax Committee Chair Rep. Matt Hall (R-Marshall), sponsor of HB 5601, said in a statement that a domestic semiconductor industry in the United States is vital and this plan makes it clear that Michigan is going to lead on the issue. He called the state the birthplace of the automobile and said pointed to non-auto production successes in southwest Michigan.

“We’ve seen what the Pfizer facility has been able to do with vaccine production in Kalamazoo,” Hall said. “Michigan has shown its quality in this area, and this legislation allows us to be more competitive and use our workforce to produce products that are pivotal to our economy.”

Also introduced Thursday were HB 5602, HB 5603, HB 5604, SB 769, SB 770 and SB 771. The bills would create an economic development fund focused on strategic outreach and attraction, a strategic site readiness program and create a critical industry fund.

In a statement from Winning Michigan Jobs, a coalition consisting of Business Leaders of Michigan, Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, Michigan Works and several other organizations, its members said it would continue to focus on a comprehensive strategy to ensure the state’s competitiveness is consistent for the long term.

“We appreciate the Legislature and administration demonstrating momentum to create opportunities to win new jobs for our communities,” the coalition said. “It’s clear that alignment is forming around crucial areas of focus that will get Michigan back in the game: site development and additional state resources that can be utilized to attract and retain key industries.”

The coalition separately pointed to HB 5425, HB 5426 and SB 615, packaged as the Michigan Employment Opportunity Program, as an important component for the state to win and keep jobs. It included the Michigan Employment Opportunity Program in its four concentrated areas of strategy. Developing sites, serving customers and preparing the workforce completed the list.

“Top states know that strong economies, widely shared prosperity and job growth don’t happen overnight,” Jeff Donofrio, president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan, said in a statement. “For Michigan to compete and win, we need to make smart investments, be customer-focused, and have a long-term commitment to helping people, businesses and communities succeed.”


Whitmer Signs High-Speed Internet Collaboration Directive For State Depts.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday signed an executive directive for state departments and agencies to collaborate with the Legislature and ready the state to continue the proposed expansion of high-speed internet across the state.

Whitmer’s Executive Directive 2021-12 comes as the state prepares for an influx of billions in federal funding it is expected to receive over the next five years, specifically for high-speed internet, from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“Right now, we have an historic opportunity to put Michiganders first and use the billions in funding we are expected to receive under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to ensure every home and business in our state has access to an affordable, reliable high-speed connection that meets their needs and that they know how to use,” Whitmer said in a statement Monday. “With this executive directive, we are getting ready to deliver critical resources to communities across Michigan to help them enhance internet access and get their residents connected.”

A news release announcing the directive also stated that Michigan will continue to work on lowering the cost of internet service in an effort to help families, communities and small businesses get on and stay connected to affordable, reliable high-speed service.

The directive compels state departments to take certain actions relating to high-speed internet expansion, including:

  • Putting Michigan workers and businesses first, prioritizing in-state businesses and workers as the state continues building up high-speed internet infrastructure;
  • Helping local communities build more efficiently, using the “dig once” principle to complete work on water, high-speed internet, the road, and other utilities simultaneously wherever possible;
  • Prioritizing the improvement of high-speed internet infrastructure in communities with the slowest speeds first to ensure we are making equitable investments;
  • Collaborating with local service providers to develop an even more granular, comprehensive map of internet coverage in Michigan to strategically close the digital divide; and
  • Developing a digital equity plan to identify barriers to internet access, make long-term plans with counties and communities to improve access, and assess how enhanced access improves a range of other social, economic and health-related outcomes.

In addition to efforts by Whitmer’s administration to move Michigan toward a goal of 100 percent access to high-speed internet, the state has been awarded several federal grants to do so.

That includes $363 million through the Federal Communication Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Auction — higher funding per capita than was secured in any other state, the release states — $32.6 million through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Program, $5.3 million through the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Grant Program, and $25 million through the CARES Act to support distance learning and internet-capable device purchases for students in need.

“Investments in high-speed internet create economic prosperity and ensure families and small businesses can rely on their connections to work, learn, and access critical information and services,” Whitmer said. “The new infrastructure bill’s funding will build on work we have already done in this space and help us usher in a new era of prosperity for our state. I look forward to working with the legislature to invest these dollars and get the job done.”

Despite those efforts, at least one state representative expressed frustration following the announcement, especially considering Whitmer’s previous vetoes on high-speed internet expansion bills passed by the Legislature in March.

“The governor has talked about it a lot, but she actually hasn’t done much to expand high-speed internet to the rural and underserved Michigan communities that need it most,” said Rep. Beth Griffin (R-Mattawan). “In fact, she’s gone out of her way to slow down investments to improve service across our state. That is important context for this executive directive.”

Griffin added that Whitmer vetoed HB 4201 in April, making Monday’s announcement feel like it “rings hollow.”

“High-speed internet is a necessity that has greatly accelerated during the pandemic. Workers and businesses need it to do their jobs, kids need it to supplement classroom instruction, patients need it to consult with their doctors online – the list goes on and on,” Griffin said. “The Legislature has tried to address this connectivity crisis, but to this point, the governor has not done enough to cooperate.”

Lawmakers supporting the legislation have said the bill would lower costs for companies seeking to expand service to new areas by exempting broadband equipment, under certain conditions, from personal property taxes and only in areas with slow internet speeds.

“The Whitmer administration should be collaborating with the Legislature to expand internet service at all times – it shouldn’t take an executive directive to address it,” Griffin said. “But I am hopeful this signals the governor is truly serious about broadband expansion in all Michigan communities.”


House Adds Funds For School Security To $368.5M Police Supplemental

What started as a $250 million supplemental bill for public safety and law enforcement left the House floor totaling $368.5 million after the legislation nearly unanimously passed the chamber.

The House added new funding to the bill to pay for school resource officers in the wake of the shooting this week at Oxford High School that killed four and injured seven where a school resource officer in the building is getting credit with limiting casualties by quickly apprehending the shooter.

Passing with wide bipartisan support was HB 5522, sponsored by Rep. Mike Mueller (R-Lindon), in a 97-3 vote. The three no votes were all Republicans: Rep. Steve Johnson of Wayland, Rep. John Reilly of Oakland Township and Rep. Steve Carra of Three Rivers.

Among the many items the bill funds: $57.5 million to a grant program aimed at encouraging officers to move to Michigan; $10 million for a fire gear initiative for fire departments predominantly staffed by part-time, volunteer or on-call firefighters; $40 million in public safety academy assistance programs; and $10 million would go toward new riot gear and body armor grants for local law enforcement agencies.

Prior to passage, the House adopted a series of amendments, one of which – offered by Rep. Gary Howell (R-North Branch) – raised the funding allocated for school resource officers from $10 million to $50 million.

“This week has brought the value of school resource officers into stark reality,” Howell said, whose son is a teacher at Oxford High School, where a school shooting earlier this week left four dead and seven injured. “They are the first line of defense in a school shooting. … I cannot sufficiently express my gratitude to the school resource officer who protected John and his students.”

Additional amendments made technical changes, such as redefining population parameters for items such as a pilot program administered by a county sheriff’s department and board of commissioners for an electronic monitoring company to provide software and training for tethers.

Democratic lawmakers, too, attempted to offer their own amendments which would have seen additional funding go toward public safety initiatives and incentivizing police to live in the communities where they served however each was not adopted.

Only one Democratic amendment was added to the bill on Wednesday, offered by Rep. Shri Thanedar (D-Detroit).

HB 5522 is the second appropriations bill to move this week with the Senate also pushing through its $3.34 billion supplemental on Thursday, targeting water infrastructure including for lead line replacements, dam repairs and other water projects (see separate story).

Shortly after the vote, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike cheered the additional funding to law enforcement as much needed, though the former party was much more open regarding their distaste with additional funding not being allocated to further public safety efforts.

“While I’m glad to see this bill provides the funding our first responders need, we cannot afford to miss this opportunity to support all aspects of policing by reinvesting in the people who call this state home,” Rep. Regina Weiss (D-Oak Park) said in a statement. “My amendment would invest in proactive, innovative approaches to public safety by increasing funding for the jail diversion grant program and bias and de-escalation training, and creating an officer misconduct registry. It’s time to ensure our police officers have the accountability, resources and training they need to keep our communities safe.”

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

CRIME VICTIMS RIGHTS: Also passing the House Thursday in 95-5 votes each were HB 4798 and HB 4974, sponsored by Rep. Graham Filler (R-Dewitt) and Rep. Tenisha Yancey (D-Harper Woods), respectively. The bills would require that victim and witness identifying information be redacted from certain court filings unless the court requires the information be released.

PROPERTY TAXES: A package of bills dealing with how owners of manufacturing personal property could apply for a tax exemption for their items also passed Thursday, with each piece of legislation in the five-bill package getting unanimous approval.

HB 5502, HB 5503, HB 5504, HB 5505 and HB 5506 would, collectively, remove the requirement that a manufacturing personal property exemption be filed yearly, instead allowing the exemption to be carried forward. It would also provide that a new industrial facilities exemption certificate could not be issued after December 30 for manufacturing personal property.

LAW ENFORCEMENT: HB 5132 and HB 5133– which modifies education requirements for applicants into law enforcement academies and outlines a renewal process for an inactive license – also unanimously passed the House Thursday in 99-0 votes.