FILE - MI Rep. Thomas Albert 12-5-17

State Representative Thomas Albert testifies before the Michigan House Competitiveness Committee on December 5, 2017. 

(The Center Square) – The Michigan House Appropriations Committee approved a $13 billion pandemic relief package, but Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is unlikely to sign the bills into law in their current iterations.  

The Committee approved House Bills 4419 and 4421 Wednesday. House Bill 4420, along with House Bill 4082, are expected to have committee votes Thursday.

The majority of the funds approved by the House committee derive from federal COVID-19 relief assistance, but a portion will include state taxpayer dollars.

The supplemental budget includes $743 million for food assistance and $481 million to assist families with rent, utility and energy bills.

Another $400 million will be used to transition workers from unemployment back into the workforce through $1,000 individual grants.

Michigan students and schools would receive $4.8 billion, while communities would receive $686 million in support via local governments.

The House plan also includes more than $1.4 billion to support child care in Michigan. However, the Appropriations Committee on Wednesday voted to authorize that funding only when Michigan ends its order calling for child care facilities and camps to make a “good faith effort” to ensure kids ages 2 to 4 wear masks.

“This is not about political posturing – this is about doing what’s right for our kids,” Rep. Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, chair of the Appropriations Committee, said in a statement.

“I have serious concerns about the consequences of this impractical, ineffective order,” Albert said. “Michigan isn’t solving any problems with this particular mask order – it’s actually creating problems for young kids and their families. I’m worried about the effects on speech development and the emotional stress it’s causing them – let alone the challenge of getting a 2-year-old to wear a mask in the first place. Few states have taken this action requiring very young kids to wear masks, and I question why our state has done so.”

According to a news release, more money will be provided for vaccination and COVID-19 testing, as well as investments in roads, broadband, mental health facilities and public water systems.

The Republican plan was introduced last week as a counter to a $14 billion plan unveiled by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

If the House plan proceeds as far as the governor’s desk, it’s likely to face a veto due to its inclusion of funding to investigate the governor’s nursing home policies related to COVID-19, as well as budgeting money for a study of the effects of Whitmer’s pandemic orders.

Another sticking point for the governor is the Republican plan’s limiting the amount of money the governor can transfer from the State Administrative Board. In 2019, the governor moved more than $600 million from legislative-sanctioned purposes into other programs. The 2021 plan would authorize transfers only up to $200,000. The committee made $2 billion of recommended House spending on hazard pay for state employees, child care and road debt contingent on this portion of the plan.

Finally, the House plan would accelerate paying off debts associated with the Flint water settlement ($595 million) and the Michigan Venture Fund ($21 million). The state’s rainy day fund would receive an infusion of $350 million. Another $50 million would be used for consolidation of state government office space and providing for remote work options.

Regional Editor

Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.