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Good budget news overshadowed by road funding dead end

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Michigan lawmakers are in for a bumpy ride home.

They are in the unenviable position—but one they put themselves in—of explaining to constituents why they couldn’t work out a solution to a maddening problem we all face every day and that the majority of Michiganders say is the most urgent issue facing the state.

Their inability to pass a transportation funding package means our roads will only get worse, doing more damage to our vehicles, driving away businesses that might otherwise invest in Michigan and likely even costing more Michiganders their lives.

It also means the rest of Michigan’s transportation system will lose out. As we wrote here recently, public transit, passenger and freight rail, cargo shipping infrastructure and public boating facilities all will suffer because the Legislature couldn’t get the job done before breaking for summer recess.

But! It’s Friday and the forecast looks gorgeous. Summer in Michigan is too brief and too lovely to spend much time grumbling. Let’s keep on the sunny side.

In the Legislature’s mad dash toward summer break, they passed a budget that actually will do great things for Michigan’s people and environment. Here are a few examples to cheer you up for the weekend.

Added funding for lead cleanups.  Last year, working with our partners in the Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Housing, we were thrilled to secure $1.25 million in state funding to abate lead in homes with a lead poisoned child.

There has been an overwhelming demand for these services, with the Department of Community Health currently receiving five to ten applications a week from property owners seeking to address lead hazards and protect young residents. More than 6,700 kids in Michigan exceed the Centers for Disease Control’s reference level for lead, although the CDC says there is “no safe level” of lead in a child’s blood.

Because of this overwhelming demand, we urged lawmakers to boost funding for lead programs and–despite reductions in anticipated state revenue—we were able to achieve a half million dollar funding increase for lead abatement in the coming fiscal year. The department now will have $1.75 million to remove lead from homes where children have been poisoned.

We’re still at only a small fraction of what’s needed to address a problem that costs Michigan $300 million per year, but lawmakers deserve kudos for recognizing the seriousness—and the solvability—of the state’s childhood lead poisoning problem.

New efforts to protect our water. The budget includes $4 million for a new water initiative led by the Department of Environmental Quality. The department is charged with developing a comprehensive water strategy that includes water quality, use, permitting and monitoring. The effort will include refining the assessment tool the state uses to issue permits for large water withdrawals. The funding also will support the state wetlands program and real-time beach monitoring.

A stand against invasive species. The Department of Natural Resources will get $5 million for an initiative to combat invasive species. Governor Snyder, in his latest State of the State address and elsewhere, has vowed to get tough on invasive species. Importantly, Snyder recognizes the need to not only to stop the spread of Asian carp, but also to squash terrestrial invaders like the Asian longhorned beetle.

Reinvigorating recycling effortsThe DEQ budget also includes $1 million for an initiative to improve Michigan’s abysmal recycling rate.  The governor in April appointed nine members to the newly formed Michigan Recycling Council, including Kerrin O’Brien of the MEC-member Michigan Recycling Coalition. The effort will begin to recover some of the $435 million worth of recyclable material Michigan sends to the landfill each year.

More money for non-motorized trails. The budget includes $2.5 million in new funding for development of non-motorized trail programs. New funding will be distributed to DNR forest recreation and trails programs, Mackinac Island State Park, the Michigan Historical Center and trail grants. Funding also will support the development of a nearly 1,000-mile showcase trail stretching from Belle Isle in Detroit to the Wisconsin border.

Yes, you’re probably going to hit some nasty potholes this weekend. Be sure to tell your legislators about it. But it couldn’t hurt to let them know you saw the good stuff too.

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Photo courtesy Paolo Camera via Flickr.

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