LANSING, Michigan — A divided Michigan House approved a mid-year spending bill Tuesday with more money for road maintenance because of the severe winter and to account for a delay in the expansion of Medicaid, setting up negotiations over differences with the Senate.
The clock is ticking because legislators have warned that the state health agency could run into funding problems in mid-March without the legislation.
The bill, approved 65-44 by the Republican-led House mostly along party lines, would set aside $215 million for roads — $100 million to fix potholes and account for higher-than-expected snowplowing costs and $115 million for repaving and other longer-lasting road and bridge projects. Overall, that's more than double what the Senate OK'd.
The House, however, didn't include $115 million to plug an ongoing shortfall in the Medicaid budget, which has suffered because a tax on health claims paid by insurers and HMOs isn't generating as much as anticipated. The Senate wants to divert money from elsewhere in this year's budget to secure a federal match.
House Democrats opposed the legislation in part for not addressing the health claims tax shortfall. They also said at least another $50 million should go to help road agencies grappling with winter expenses, and they unsuccessfully asked to include funding to help communities with ice storm cleanup and the propane shortage.
The House, unlike the Senate, didn't restore state funding for the Hutzel Women's Hospital in Detroit or include money for the fledging Regional Transit Authority in Detroit to get up and running.
"How can we go back to our communities ... that are dealing with an incredible crisis after this winter and say we couldn't get you those dollars because we didn't ask for what the true amount was for emergency need?" said Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Joe Haveman, R-Holland, defended the bill that legislative leaders plan to send to a House-Senate conference committee, adding that he wants to permanently fix the health insurance tax problem and not leave it to future lawmakers.
"It'll never be enough money for roads. We know that, especially with this winter we've had," he said. "But we're not just going to throw money at the problem. Let's think this out, let's come to a logical number. Yes, the conference committee is part of our role here. It's not done yet until we go across the building and iron it out."
Both chambers' version of the bill would adjust the current budget to account for the loss of expected savings after Senate Republicans delayed the expansion of Medicaid from January to April. The adjustment of funding is needed to shore up the Department of Community Health budget.
Senate Bill 608: http://1.usa.gov/1cnp62Q
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