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With billions in the bank, House GOP proposes $250M for Michigan police

capitol dome
The Michigan House worked early into Wednesday morning to pass legislation that would prohibit communities from enacting bans on short-term rentals like Airbnb. (Shutterstock image)

LANSING — Michigan House Republicans on Wednesday proposed a $250 million plan that aims to boost police recruitment and retention, their opening salvo in long-delayed negotiations on how to spend nearly $6 billion in federal stimulus funds still available to the state. 

"I think this is something we can start building some momentum on," House Appropriations Chair Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, told reporters after unveiling the spending  proposal in a legislative committee.

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Aiming to address police staffing shortages and low morale, Michigan House Republicans are proposing to spend $154 million in state funds from what is a roughly $3 billion surplus, along with $94 million in federal stimulus funds. 

That would still leave the state with more than $5 billion in unspent fiscal recovery funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, which Congress and Democratic President Joe Biden finalized in March. 

"There are a lot of discussions going on with what our biggest challenges in the state are right now and how we can best utilize these funds to get a return on our investment," Albert said. 

"We're still working through that, but we saw an opportunity."

The House GOP plan would allocate $57.5 million for an incentive program to try to lure officers from other states, $40 million for police academy scholarships to encourage more people to join law enforcement, $10 million for public safety signing bonuses and $10 million for retention bonuses of up to $5,000 per officer. 

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who last year proposed a series of law enforcement reforms that the GOP-led Legislature has not considered, outlined her own $75 million police funding and crime reduction plan in August.

Whitmer has toured the state rolling out other proposals for how she would like to spend roughly $5.8 billion in remaining federal stimulus funds. 

Senate Republicans have proposed their own $2.5 billion plan to improve aging water infrastructure around the state, including $600 million for lead service line replacement and $650 million for a dam risk reduction revolving loan fund. 

But despite some overlap in priorities, negotiations between Whitmer and the GOP-led Legislature have been at a standstill for months, complicating efforts by local officials to spend their own funds — a collective $4.4 billion — until they know how the state will act. 

“We’re ready for them to come to the table;” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist told Bridge Michigan on Wednesday, referring to the Michigan Legislature. “We’ve been sitting at the table.”

Gilchrist touted administration proposals to use federal stimulus funds to support affordable housing initiatives, expand access to child care and “rebuild” public health infrastructure stretched thin by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We think there should be an urgency with those funds being invested in our community," Gilchrist said after an unrelated event at the Michigan Capitol. "So we're happy to see that the Legislature is beginning to debate that. I look forward to it. We have a lot of priorities we need to hit."

Asked about the slow pace of stimulus spending, Albert told reporters that there is no shortage of spending ideas in the state Legislature. 

But the House budget leader said he is taking his time to vet funding requests, and he noted that the ink is not yet dry on Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which will send more than $10 billion in additional funds to Michigan. 

"It's easy to do a press release," he said. “It is very difficult to write a $250 million supplemental that will actually work and help residents."

The debate over how to best spend federal stimulus funds will “definitely bleed over into (2022), but I'm hoping we can take a couple bites at the apple and get some momentum building before the end of the year," Albert told reporters.

Whitmer and other Democrats have been frustrated by the slow spending pace, arguing GOP leaders are essentially sitting on money that could allow Michigan officials to make “transformational” investments across the state. 

Pushing those talks into 2022 will only make the process more difficult because of election-year dynamics, state Rep. Joe Tate of Detroit, who is the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. 

“We know the realities of that and what we’re about to face next year, and that’s something we should be cognizant of,” Tate told Bridge Michigan. “We need to pick up the pace to get these dollars out, because there’s a need.”

Democrats are ready to discuss increased funding for law enforcement and public safety, but "the Devil's in the details," Tate said, noting the GOP legislation unveiled Wednesday was not negotiated with the Whitmer administration or the minority party.

Beyond police recruitment and retention, the GOP plan would also spend $7.5 million in federal stimulus funds on mental health programs to help officers and first responders deal with conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Another $7.5 million would help local police agencies purchase body cameras for their officers, and $15 million would be spent on an existing Police Athletic League program in Detroit that connects kids with officers. 

But the most important part of the plan is non-tangible: It's a sign of "appreciation" for officers, and a "much needed morale boost," said sponsoring Rep. Mike Mueller, R-Linden, who worked for sheriffs offices in Washtenaw and Livingston County before joining the Michigan Legislature in 2019.

"It gives them the sense of security that we're not only taking pictures with them when it comes to election time, but that we actually have their back.”

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