By Jon King /

A local lawmaker is commenting on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s $67 billion state budget proposal introduced Thursday to the GOP-led legislature.

The Democratic governor says her third annual spending blueprint would aid Michigan’s pandemic recovery by solidifying new programs to expand eligibility for free community college tuition, bolstering child care assistance and boosting local bridge repairs. In response, State Rep. Ann Bollin of Brighton Township, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, says while she shares priorities with the governor on issues such as roads, schools and health care, they need to be achieved "without raising taxes or adding state debt.”

Bollin added that the state’s biggest challenge remains the pandemic. “Our families, workers and job providers need a state budget that helps them navigate these unprecedented times. Our kids are falling behind in school, and we need a plan of action to address this learning loss and get students back on track. Students all over our state deserve access to greater learning opportunities. Local job providers and the people who depend on them are struggling. They need hope and certainty moving forward”

Whitmer’s plan calls for $570 million to address learning loss and K-12 enrollment declines on top of a $162-per-student, or 2%, increase in base aid for most traditional districts in the fiscal year that starts in October. It also would fund more immediate coronavirus-related needs, such as vaccine distribution, with multibillion-dollar supplemental spending bills — primarily through the release of federal COVID-19 relief aid that the governor has been urging Republican lawmakers to pass soon.

Bollin says she recognizes these are tough economic times, but insists “the people of Michigan must be well-represented as this budget process moves forward. We must put people ahead of politics and work together to deliver a sound spending plan that respects our residents and does not place the burden on the backs of taxpayers or small businesses.”

The governor said she focused on putting people back to work and a safe return to in-person instruction at schools.

She wants to double spending on Futures for Frontliners, which covers community college tuition for essential workers who worked in the early months of the pandemic, to include those who lost their jobs when her administration reinstated business restrictions to curb surging infections in the late fall. She hopes to quadruple spending on Michigan Reconnect, which launched last week with bipartisan support and helps adults age 25 and older without a college degree to obtain an associate’s degree or postsecondary certificate at a community college or private training school.

Her plan would temporarily expand eligibility for child care subsidies, to 200% of the poverty level instead of 150%, for 18 months and waive families’ out-of-pocket copays — helping up to 150,000 kids.

Whitmer called it a “game-changing investment.” Women and working moms, particularly minorities, have “borne the brunt of this economic pain during this pandemic,” she said. “By making a sizable investment in child care, we can help alleviate the burden faced by working families.” At least one business group applauded the move.

A top Republican lawmaker, however, said the governor’s proposal would not do enough to get students back into classrooms during the virus outbreak, citing a “tremendous amount of uncertainty for parents.” Whitmer has strongly urged districts to provide the option by March 1, saying it is safe, but has said it should be a local decision — as allowed under a 2020 law that passed with bipartisan support.

“What certainty is provided in this budget that kids will have access to in-person instruction going forward? asked House Appropriations Committee Chairman Thomas Albert of Lowell.

Whitmer told reporters that if the Legislature quickly OK’d billions of supplemental federal K-12 aid she requested last month, “schools would have much greater resources to ensure that they can get back and stay safe in doing so.”

The governor proposed extending a $2-an-hour pay raise for direct care workers in nursing homes and those providing Medicaid-funded in-home services.

She also emphasized bridge repairs, calling for $300 million to fix or replace about 120 local bridges — a year after she announced $3.5 billion in borrowing to rebuild deteriorating state-owned highways and bridges over five years.

The $67.1 billion recommendation would be a 4.4% increase from $62.7 billion in the current fiscal year. There would be a significant amount of one-time funding due to increased federal aid and surplus revenues. The plan includes no tax increases, but some fee hikes, and proposes eliminating the sales tax on tampons and other menstrual products.

Whitmer wants to finish legislative negotiations by the end of June, three months before the budget would start. The process was delayed in 2019 due to a stalemate with GOP lawmakers and in 2020 because of uncertainty over revenue.

“We’re still in the midst of this economic and health crisis. The quicker that we do some things to give people more assurances, I think the better for a lot of reasons,” she told The Associated Press.

The proposal also would distribute:

— $70 million to universities and community colleges that adopt testing and other COVID-19 policies. That would augment a 2% boost in operations funding.

— $38 million to nursing homes that have lost money during the pandemic.

— $70 million to two-dozen cities losing income tax revenue because non-residents are working at home during the pandemic.

— $6.7 million to expand coverage of sickle cell disease to include around 400 adults. The inherited blood disorder primarily affects Black people.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II said the initiative stems from a task force that is addressing coronavirus racial disparities.

“It’s difficult for people who present to even get the types of pain medication they need to be acknowledged as a sickle cell patient, to get the kind of testing that can lead to the right kind of responsive treatments that are available to them,” he said. A lot of adolescents lose care when they become adults, he said, due to a coverage gap.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.