Michigan Governor Rick Snyder asked state lawmakers on Wednesday to provide more than $300 million in his current and fiscal 2017 budget proposals to deal with the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint and to keep the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) from running out of cash as early as April.
The Republican governor, who has come under fire for the health crisis in Flint due to unsafe drinking water and for the financial crisis at DPS under emergency managers he appointed, told lawmakers that resources to address the problems are available due to the state's improving economy.
Flint protesters could be heard chanting during the budget presentation before the House and Senate appropriations committees, local media reported
Flint, a city of some 100,000 people, was under control of a state-appointed emergency manager in 2014 when it switched its source of water from Detroit's municipal system to the Flint River to save money.
That move provoked a national controversy and prompted several lawsuits by parents who say their children are showing dangerously high blood levels of lead.
Snyder noted that federal money for Flint only totals $5 million so far.
Under Snyder's proposal, Michigan would appropriate $195 million to provide health, nutritional, educational, water bill payment, and infrastructure aid to Flint on top of the $37 million already approved.
For DPS, Snyder asked for an immediate $50 million to enable the state's largest public school system to continue paying employees and vendors.
"The clock is ticking and action is required and would be greatly appreciated," the governor said.
Snyder is also seeking $72 million annually over 10 years to fund a plan to split DPS into an operating entity and a debt-paying entity. He said that money would come from Michigan's share of a nationwide settlement with U.S. tobacco companies and not from the state's school aid fund. Legislation to restructure DPS is pending before a Senate committee.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said Snyder's allocation of $25 million to remove lead pipes falls short of the estimated $55 million price tag.
"Governor Snyder's proposed supplemental appropriation is a down payment on lead pipe removal," she said in a statement.
Republican legislative leaders said they would work to secure more help for Flint. But Democrats said help was not coming fast enough.
"This cannot be a public relations-only win for the governor while the people of Flint continue to suffer daily. They can’t wait another day,” State Representative Pam Faris said in a statement.
The governor's proposed budget for fiscal 2017, which begins Oct. 1, increases funding for education and local governments. The $54.9 billion all-funds spending plan includes a $10.2 billion general fund budget.
(Reporting by Karen Pierog; Editing by Diane Craft and Meredith Mazzilli)