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Lawmakers accelerate work to finish Michigan budget; conference committees OK spending bills

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LANSING, Michigan — Lawmakers on Tuesday accelerated efforts to finish the state budget, giving initial approval to much of a $55 billion plan that pumps more money into roads, gives a modest funding boost to universities and community colleges, and closes a juvenile justice facility.

In a span of hours, 14 of 17 House-Senate conference panels moved spending bills to the Republican-led Legislature for final passage next week, including one that diverts most of $25 million that would have gone to movie and TV incentives to paying off debt related to a film studio. Negotiators continued to work on Michigan's two largest individual budgets: schools and health.

Bills OK'd Tuesday, and which cannot be amended, will:

— Dedicate $400 million in general funds to transportation, $260 million more than the expected due to higher tax revenue estimates than projected. It is the fifth straight year the state will transfer general fund money to the road budget, partly because traditional sources of revenue such as fuel taxes are not generating enough for a federal match. Legislators expect to work on a long-term funding solution this summer after voters rejected a sales tax increase to trigger at least $1.2 billion more a year for roads and bridges.

"We cannot do it in one-time funding. We're going to have to find a way to fund this as we go forward," said Sen. Goeff Hansen, a Hart Republican who chaired the transportation conference committee.

Democrats unsuccessfully tried changing the bill to guarantee that $26 million, or 10 percent, of the extra funding would go to public transit in accordance with how transportation dollars are typically divvied up.

"We need to be using the full formula to ensure all areas — urban, rural areas — have adequate transportation," said Rep. Brian Banks, a Detroit Democrat.

PHOTO: Members of the House-Senate community colleges conference committee meet to approve a 2015-16 spending plan on Tuesday, May 26, 2015 at the Capitol in Lansing, Mich. From left to right are Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton; Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart; and Rep. Paul Muxlow, R-Brown City. (AP Photo/David Eggert)
Members of the House-Senate community colleges conference committee meet to approve a 2015-16 spending plan on Tuesday, May 26, 2015 at the Capitol in Lansing, Mich. From left to right are Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton; Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart; and Rep. Paul Muxlow, R-Brown City. (AP Photo/David Eggert)

— Boost overall operations aid to 15 universities by $20.6 million, or 1.5 percent, and to 28 community colleges by $4.3 million, or 1.4 percent. Increases range from 0.4 percent at Wayne State to 3.1 percent at Lake Superior State and from 1.2 percent at Henry Ford College in Dearborn and 1.7 percent at Kirtland, Montcalm and Washtenaw community colleges. Universities will not qualify for the funding unless they keep tuition hikes to no more than 3.2 percent.

University funding will total $1.5 billion, still $43 million below what it was when Republican Gov. Rick Snyder took office in 2011.

"We still are not anywhere near getting back to where we should be," said Rep. Sam Singh, an East Lansing Democrat who voted for the higher education budget. "If we want to be competitive in a global economy, if we want to be competitive with other states ... we not only have to be doing more for these institutions, but we have to be doing more on the scholarship side of the equation for our students."

The conference panel decided not to bring back $6 million in adult part-time student grants for the first time in seven years, as Snyder had called for in his original budget plan.

— Close the W.J. Maxey Boys Training School in Whitmore Lake north of Ann Arbor, saving $7.5 million according to an April estimate. About 50 juveniles are housed there. Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Bob Wheaton said the agency will give judges viable alternatives on where to send the Maxey detainees.

— Spend $19 million to retire bonds that the State of Michigan Retirement Systems must cover under a 2010 deal after the Michigan Motion Pictures Studio, built on the site of a former General Motors office complex in Pontiac, failed to make payments to bondholders. That leaves $6 million for incentives in a program that had $38 million this budget year.

In 2012, the studio — then known as Raleigh Michigan Studios — blamed its hard times on Michigan severely slashing what had been some of the country's most generous movie-making incentives. Raleigh broke ground in 2009 during the heyday of the film breaks but opened in 2011 amid industry uncertainty after Snyder took office.

Asked if the move signals the eventual end of the incentives, Sen. Jim Stamas, a Midland Republican who chaired the conference committee that allocated the movie money, said, "It certainly would appear that we're on that track."


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