Under House GOP budget, say 'So long' to parks, pollution protections
In April, Michigan House Republicans set forth budgets that, if approved, would send our state into a tailspin of instability, threatening the lives and livelihoods of Michiganders in every political district.
House Bills 4395 and 4397 passed out of the Michigan Legislature with only Republican approval, and not all Republicans at that. If made law, the Departments of Natural Resources (MDNR) and Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) would only be able to function about 12 weeks at a time on budgets 25% of what they are now.
Lawmakers would have to approve each department’s budget repeatedly, and the departments would have no guarantee their budgets would remain the same size or fund the programs and staff they had active.
The legislation renders the departments unable to provide services residents expect and depend on for their health, safety and joy. Parks would struggle to stay open, staffed and maintained. Contaminated sites would continue to pollute the air, ground and drinking water. Bipartisan efforts that depend on state funding – like lead poisoning prevention – would never be realized.
Why? State departments can only take on work that fits their budgets, and budgets on life support cannot keep Michigan healthy and running.
“House Republicans have worked to destabilize Michigan and Michiganders this past year by stripping public safety measures, delegitimizing our safest and largest election in history, and leaving billions of dollars in COVID-19 relief untouched,” said Conan Smith, MEC President & CEO. “Now, as our economy is rebuilding, vaccination rates are rising, and state and federal funding are flowing, our lives, livelihoods and the places we love are once again threatened by instability.”
So-called budget innovations that make it genuinely harder for Michigan to protect the health of its people and provide dependable services, Smith added. They should not get an introduction in the Legislature, let alone a hearing.
“House Republicans can sell their political game however they want, but quarterly budgets were never anticipated in the Michigan Constitution, and enacting them would erode society as we know it,” said Sean Hammond, MEC policy director.
Here’s what could happen.
State parks would close
The Porcupine Mountains. Grand Haven State Park. Pigeon River Country. These places of wonder would close because the MDNR would not have the funds to staff and maintain them, said Smith.
Why? MDNR’s parks expenses shoot up during Michigan’s warm months. More maintenance is needed as flora blooms and people arrive in droves, and more staff are needed to provide that maintenance. If 2021 is anything like 2020, park attendance, driven by COVID, could be at or surpass record highs, making a bigger budget necessary.
A budget running at 25% capacity cannot account for seasonal spikes in budget, let alone record attendance.
“Whole communities dependent on our multi-billion-dollar outdoor recreation economy would be tossed to the wayside, courtesy of their elected officials,” Smith said. “Republicans’ acts would be in direct defiance to their constituents. People have come to our parks in record numbers this past year, and 84% of voters said ‘yes’ to protecting natural places in perpetuity during the 2020 election. People want parks, not political power trips.”
Pollution would fester
Air, ground, water; you name it. Key to cleaning up pollution and protecting communities from new threats is EGLE, our environmental department. Its permitting process is meant to keep bad polluters out, and its contaminated site cleanups hold them accountable.
Not so if EGLE runs on an unstable, uncertain budget that’s at 25% capacity. Cleanups and permitting cost a lot of money, something EGLE won’t have with a slashed fund to draw from.
“Superfund sites like the 10-Mile Drain in St. Clair Shores and the Velsicol site in Gratiot County will be left to fester in toxic pollution,” said Hammond. “Republicans should be prepared to answer their constituents, who will undoubtedly suffer from higher rates of immunodeficiencies, stunted childhood development and sicknesses if EGLE cannot keep sites from contaminating our ground and drinking water.”
Kindra Weid, RN, coalition coordinator for MI Air MI Health, drew upon data compiled by the American Thoracic Society to prove our need for a fully functioning state.
“An estimated 132 Michiganders die each year from smog [ozone] pollution,” she said. “Another 304 suffer grave illnesses, and over 313,000 work and school days are lost. This is due to smog pollution alone, not to mention the health impacts of soot and the cumulative impacts of both. EGLE is critical to monitoring our exposure to these harmful air pollutants, and if the severe budget cuts proposed by House Republicans pass, they will be devastating for public health.”
Lead will leach into our children
In April, our 10th annual Lead Education Day proved state departments and lawmakers alike want to end lead poisoning caused by our homes.
The bipartisan “Filter First” legislation we are educating and advocating for is proof of widespread support for lead poisoning prevention, too. The legislation would fund the installation and maintenance of drinking fountains and taps that filter our lead in all public schools and daycare centers, protecting 1.5 million children.
Both forms of funding would be lost in the current iteration of our state budget, and kids would continue to suffer from stunted development and illnesses like osteoporosis and dyslexia caused by lead poisoning.
“Protecting our children from toxic lead exposure, especially in schools, should never be a low priority,” said Charlotte Jameson, program director of MEC. “It's still early in the budget process, so we urge appropriations leadership and the Legislature to include this funding in future iterations of Michigan's budget. Lead poisoning is entirely preventable, and preventing it has widespread support.”