MLive: Jackson-area programs caught in ‘political fight’ of Gov. Whitmer budget vetoes
October 9, 2019
Tim In The News
JACKSON, MI – The Jackson area isn’t immune to the $947 million crossed out of the budget by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s vetoes last week.
Among the losers? An opioid rehab facility, Michigan International Speedway, county jails and college students.
It’s unlikely all of the cuts will stick, as the Republican-led legislature has already introduced spending bills to refund some of them. But some community leaders are more optimistic than others that they’ll see their dollars come back.
Here's a look at who's taking the hit in the Jackson area.
Long-term opioid rehab apartments: $750,000
The Andy’s Place Apartments project was lauded for how bipartisan it was. Members from both parties attended the April groundbreaking – including Whitmer – on the long-term opioid rehab apartments in Blackman Township.
Mike Hirst, who lost his son to a heroin overdose in 2010, is in charge of the project.
The new 50,000-square-foot development at 2388 W. Michigan Ave. includes 50 apartments – 39 one-bedroom spaces and 11 family units. Residents will be referred from the drug court and the program will have learning and accountability components.
"There's nothing more powerful than seeing a grieving parent turn their loss into a cause that helps someone else's kids," Whitmer said, speaking at the groundbreaking. "Andy's Place is going to be one of those places that changes lives."
Now, Andy’s Place is on hold, because of Whitmer’s veto of $750,000 in one-time funding.
The rest of the funding is in place for the $13 million project, but construction can’t start until the $750,000 promised from the state is secured, Hirst said. The money will provide security for the two buildings on the site for five years, he said.
"She's behind the project, there's no question about it," Hirst said. "I understand what's going on here. Everybody understands what's going on. We can't let this project be a pawn in a political fight."
U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, wrote a letter to Whitmer asking her to reconsider this veto.
"I was disheartened to learn that you vetoed grant funding for this project, effectively stopping construction of the facility in its tracks," Walberg wrote. "I write today to ask you what has changed in the four months since you stood on that stage."
While Hirst is confident the money will be refunded, the waiting is harmful. If crews can't start pouring concrete before winter hits, the project will have to wait until spring, he said.
"That's six months down the road," Hirst said. "How many will die, in that time?"
Michigan International Speedway traffic control: $600,000
Since 2012, the state has given $600,000 per year to the Michigan State Police for traffic control during both race weekends at MIS. Whitmer cut it all for 2020.
The money put police at traffic control points, intersections and gates to facilitate the thousands of spectators on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday of race weekend, MSP Lt. Greg Morenko said in an email.
MSP also provided the aviation unit, bomb squad, explosive-detecting K9 units and an emergency support team, Morenko said.
MIS officials wouldn't respond to questions about the effect of the cuts or the history of the funding.
While MSP provides services to the Faster Horses Country Music Festival at MIS each July, all funding for this comes from the festival promoter, Morenko said.
The speedway will have to pay for the services if the cuts aren't reversed, Morenko said.
The $600,000 almost equates to the cost of a title sponsorship of a race – as documents show the Michigan Economic Development Corporation paid $725,000 in 2017 to name the August NASCAR Cup race the "Pure Michigan 400."
Both Andy’s Place and MIS have ties to Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake. Shirkey lives near MIS and played a role in getting Hirst funding for the opioid rehab apartments.
Shirkey and his spokeswoman weren’t immediately available for comment, but have declined comment to other media on if Shirkey felt Whitmer’s vetoes targeted him.
Private college students: Up to $2,400 per student
Whitmer's cuts included $38 million in higher education, including the need-based Michigan Tuition Grant offered to students attending private colleges.
Students can get up to $2,400 per year to defray tuition costs. The cuts take effect immediately, said Bart Daig, Baker College president/CEO.
That means many students expecting the grant this fall are left with a surprise $2,400 bill.
"It's frustrating and disappointing that the governor vetoed this," Daig said. "They think it's going to impact the legislature to get them to move, but I'm not sure that it is. Because it's not an impact on the legislators, it's an impact on the students."
Baker College has 200 students at its Jackson campus receiving the grant. The school will cover the costs for students this fall if the cuts aren't reversed, Daig said.
Walberg co-authored a separate letter to Whitmer regarding the tuition grant cuts.
"We are disappointed to learn of your decision to veto funding for the Michigan Tuition Grant," the letter said. "All too frequently we hear from constituents who are concerned about how they will pay for college."
Besides Baker, private colleges in the Jackson area affected by this include Spring Arbor University, Adrian College, Albion College, Siena Heights University and Olivet College.
Jackson County: Roughly $900,000
Jackson County expects to lose out on about $900,000 if none of Whitmer's cuts are reversed, Jackson County Administrator/Controller Mike Overton said.
Cuts include about $400,000 to the childcare fund, which is used for placing kids in foster care or putting them in detention by circuit or family court. The county is also losing about $179,000 for police road patrol – meaning the county could lose two deputies, Overton said.
The state is also cutting the $14.8 million in funding for jail reimbursements to counties across Michigan. Some inmates are shipped to jails to serve their sentence instead of prisons, as it’s cheaper to house an inmate at a county jail, Undersheriff Chris Kuhl said. The state has reimbursed counties for all costs, previously.
In 2019, the Michigan Department of Corrections has reimbursed the Jackson County Sheriff's Office $285,000 for 93 inmates, per MDOC records.
“We will have to continue to house these offenders, so the county budget will be adversely impacted while the costs associated with these offenders still exist,” Kuhl said.
Department officials have spoken with state legislators to express their concern with cutting this program, Kuhl said.
Jackson County already had to find a way to cut $1.5 million for its 2020 budget, which was approved in September. Cuts included laying off employees and ending funding to the car seat safety program.
This article originally appeared in the October 9 edition of MLive.