Snyder OKs spending; vetoes abortion, online gambling bills
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Rick Snyder on Friday signed $1.3 billion budget legislation that is tied to a contentious plan to shift tax revenue for schools to other priorities such as roads, environmental cleanup and recycling.
The new laws were the term-limited Republican’s final chance to shape state spending before he leaves office Tuesday. He also vetoed an anti-abortion bill and legislation that would have legalized online gambling on a day he signed roughly 185 bills and vetoed about 40 — huge numbers. Among them, he signed a measure making it harder to launch ballot initiatives and vetoed one that would have trimmed the power of the incoming Democratic attorney general. They all were approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature during a recent lame-duck legislative session.
A look at some of what Snyder did Friday, his last day of acting on bills:
The state’s school fund was due for a $174 million annual boost thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that enables Michigan to collect taxes on more online purchases. But under the Republican-backed budget deal Snyder signed, the windfall is being diverted to roads and other priorities.
The shift is made by earmarking less income tax revenue for schools and the general fund. That money will instead go to roads this fiscal year and next fiscal year, and to a $69 million Renew Michigan Fund to clean up toxic sites, manage waste and boost recycling. The new fund will be a permanent move going forward annually.
Snyder approved the plan after lawmakers rejected his proposed hike in landfill-dumping fees. The school aid fund currently has more than $14 billion.
“As we continue to build a stronger foundation for Michigan’s future, it’s critical that we invest in improvements to our environment and infrastructure,” Snyder said in a statement.
Democrats and schools groups had decried the diversion, which barely cleared the House. Democratic Gov.-Elect Gretchen Whitmer late Friday called the $1.3 billion supplemental budget “fiscally irresponsible.”
Overall, the budget laws approved by Snyder include $766 million for health and human services, primarily from federal funds and a new health insurance tax. The measures also allocate $114 million more to fix roads statewide and $20 million more to address the emergence of pollution from man-made chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. And $14 million is allocated to hire 175 additional child protective services workers in the wake of a scathing audit of the state Children’s Protective Services agency.
There is $5 million to implement the voter-approved legalization of recreational marijuana, $43 million to reduce unfunded liabilities in the military and judicial retirement systems, and a $28 million boost for the legislative budget, including $18 million to buy a parking structure to provide additional spaces to lawmakers, staff and the public. The Senate now leases the facility.
The laws also include $25 million more to help some schools upgrade door locks and other security features, and they added $100 million to savings — bringing the “rainy day” fund to $1.1 billion. It had been almost entirely empty when Snyder took office eight years ago.
Except for one line-item veto, Snyder kept intact $115 million in “enhancement grants” — earmarks for projects in individual legislative districts. The spending is far more than is typical.
Snyder vetoed bills that would have authorized online gambling, including wagers on sports. He cited “largely unknown budgetary concerns” because internet gambling would have been taxed at 8 percent, instead of the 19 percent tax now paid by Detroit’s three brick-and-mortar casinos. The 23 tribal casinos would have made payments in accordance with their compacts with the state.
Snyder said gambling could have shifted from Michigan’s iLottery, which helps fund schools, to casinos’ online operations. He also cited a concern that the bills would have encouraged gambling by making it much easier to do.
Snyder also vetoed bills that would have regulated the fast-growing paid fantasy sports industry and curbed state rules for charity poker rooms.
Snyder also vetoed legislation that would have permanently banned Michigan doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing drugs with webcams or other forms of telemedicine. He helped to enact the temporary prohibition in 2012, but the veto means it will expire next week.
Snyder said patients — including in rural areas — should be able to remotely receive safe and proper care, including for a medical abortion when drugs are used to end a pregnancy. He said objective research shows that medical abortions are safe and that a virtual consultation with a physician is as effective as an in-person visit. The bill had been backed by majority Republicans in the Legislature and opposed by Democrats.
Snyder signed a bill to require A-through-F letter grades for public schools, starting in September 2019. Each school will not receive a cumulative letter grade. They instead would be graded by the state Department of Education in five categories: students’ overall proficiency on standardized tests in math and English language arts, their growth on those assessments, graduation rates, academic performance compared to schools with similar student populations, and progress for children whose first language is not English.
Snyder signed bills letting municipalities restrict the use of fireworks on more days. The law has authorized local governments to regulate more powerful fireworks but restricted their ability to do so on 30 days a year near or on all national holidays. The new law cuts to 12 the number of days when local rules can be in effect — largely around New Year’s, Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day.
Snyder signed a bill that would require the state Department of Environmental Quality to use federal toxicity values when setting cleanup criteria for hazardous substances and take additional steps when upgrading standards. Democrats had said it would make it harder to toughen the standard for protecting against an PFAS. Republicans had said it would make long-overdue updates to promote the cleanup and reuse of abandoned industrial properties.
Snyder signed a scaled-down wetlands measure that continues to require permits for degrading many bogs, marshes and similar waterways but makes key concessions to developers.
Snyder vetoed bills that would have cut taxes owed by various businesses, calling it a departure from returning the state to stable financial footing.