Prisoner-hunting, tree-planting: Lesser-known programs in Whitmer’s budget plan

Increased spending on schools, infrastructure and targeted tax relief were the main proposals put forward by Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s administration when it unveiled its budget this week.

The $74.1 billion plan also contains numerous funding proposals for other interesting programs and projects that did not immediately make headlines. Things like planting trees in northern Michigan, building a new psychiatric hospital, or studying gun violence prevention efforts. MLive has pulled out some interesting proposals from the massive budget that might go unnoticed.

One caveat to keep in mind: none of these proposals are set in stone. Whitmer’s 2022-23 budget plan is a starting point for the months-long process of negotiating a final budget with the Legislative Assembly. The next fiscal year will not begin until October 1.

Related: 6 questions answered about Whitmer’s $74 billion budget proposal

This list is not meant to be exhaustive. You can see all proposed projects paid for with one-time funding here, or a full breakdown of expenses here.

The governor’s budget plan includes $10 million in one-time spending to equip inmates in Michigan correctional facilities with a wristband that tracks their movements in real time. Wristbands transmit a radio frequency that records location information.

Budget documents say the new program would allow correctional staff to better enforce restrictions in correctional facilities and quickly identify who was in the area when an incident occurs. For example, the system could send an alert when two prisoners who have been ordered to stay apart are within a certain distance of each other, potentially preventing fights or other unwanted interactions.

Prisons currently use a paper-based system to record inmate movements. The budget proposal indicates that a wireless tracking system would prevent the possibility of falsifications or errors in the record.

When a disturbance or assault occurs, correctional staff review printed records, speak to eyewitnesses and review security footage to determine who was involved. However, this can cause problems when eyewitness accounts are inaccurate and security footage is unclear.

The budget proposal says a wireless tracking system is “essential” to maintaining security in correctional facilities.

The governor wants to replace a troubled computer system that collects unemployment taxes from employers and pays unemployment insurance benefits to people who lose their jobs.

The Unemployment Insurance Agency has come under scrutiny after an audit found $8.5 billion in fraudulent payments and $3.9 billion in overpayments. been paid throughout the pandemic.

The budget proposal calls for $75 million to replace the Michigan Integrated Data Automated System (MiDAS). The system has been in place for more than 10 years and was already flagged for replacement before the COVID-19 pandemic caused a huge spike in jobless claims.

Whitmer is also asking for $13 million to strengthen enforcement against unemployment insurance fraud.

Michigan mental hospitals are deteriorating, according to Whitmer’s budget plan. It is proposing an investment of $325 million to build a new facility in southeast Michigan.

The goal is to open a 260-bed facility by 2027 to replace the Hawthorn Center in Northville and Walter P. Reuther Hospital in Westland. The proposed new facility would have 45 more beds than the other two combined.

Budget documents indicate that the new facility would provide inpatient psychiatric treatment, care and services to children, adolescents and adults. A specific location is not designated. There are 770 beds in total in the state psychiatric hospital system, but people in need of care often face delays in securing a place in a public facility.

The budget also includes $10 million to renovate the Hawthorn Center to allow 28 additional children to access inpatient services. An additional $15 million would help renovate the construction of a 28-bed satellite facility for the Saline Center for Forensic Psychiatry for people who need forensic care.

The budget proposal includes $115 million to update Michigan Army National Guard facilities to address inequities for female soldiers.

According to the Office of the State Budget, more than a third of armories were built before women were allowed to enlist in the National Guard. The number of female military personnel has increased by almost 20% over the past decade, representing approximately 18% of all personnel.

The budget includes some examples of inequities in facilities.

  • Only one of Michigan’s armories meets this requirement to have dedicated lactation rooms with certain amenities.
  • The Port Huron Armoury, built in 1971, only provides two toilet stalls for female soldiers and does not have a dedicated shower area. Women use the open showers in the men’s locker room, with warning signs and guards standing outside when in use.
  • The Kalamazoo armory, built in 1977, offers its 66 female soldiers only three toilet cabins and two individual showers.

The funds will also support the expansion of armories to address overcrowding and security issues.

Whitmer’s budget plan includes a $10 million allocation to the University of Michigan Firearm Injury Prevention Institute from the state’s general fund.

Half of the investment would support a study on school violence prevention strategies. The other half would fund technical assistance and training for local communities and law enforcement officials and fund evaluations of firearm injury prevention programs.

The budget makes no explicit reference to a fatal shooting at Oxford High School last October, but Whitmer expressed a desire to explore strategies to deter gun violence in schools.

Whitmer’s budget meets the terms of a lawsuit settlement that sought to prove Detroit students had a constitutional right to learn to read and write in their public schools.

The governor agreed to propose legislation during her first term that would provide the Detroit Public Schools Community District with $94.4 million in funding for literacy-related programs and initiatives. The 2022-2023 budget includes this amount for literacy programs, with the recommendation that the funds be allocated this year.

The lawsuit was filed against former Gov. Rick Snyder on behalf of students in low-performing schools. The United States Court of Appeals had ruled in favor of the students before the settlement agreement was reached.

The budget includes $9.2 million to support the Michigan State Police Trooper Recruit School. The funds will help train 50 new state police troopers. The budget proposal also includes $1 million to diversify the state’s police force.

Michigan has a fleet of 7,000 state-owned vehicles. Whitmer’s budget plan earmarks $10 million to begin phasing in electric vehicles to demonstrate its commitment to clean energy.

The federal funds would go towards a reforestation effort on 16,100 acres of private and state-owned land in the Lower Peninsula. The budget provides $5.4 million to plan for 5 million native hardwoods and softwoods to support goals set by Michigan’s Healthy Climate Plan.

Michigan was once home to three boarding schools that attempted to rob thousands of Native children of their culture. The budget proposal includes half a million dollars for a statewide impact study.

The study would seek to identify and preserve records, and interview survivors and their families.

The dark history of Native American residential schools has come to light after the discovery of more than 600 bodies of Native children in unmarked graves at the site of what was once the Marieval Indian Residential School in Canada last June. The bodies of 215 Indigenous children were found in Canada the previous month at a location in Kamloops, northwest of Vancouver.

This discovery prompted the United States Department of the Interior to launch its own investigation into Native American boarding schools. Michigan’s effort is aligned with the federal initiative.

LEARN MORE ABOUT MLIVE:

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Whitmer proposes $74.1 billion budget to support schools, cut taxes and stimulate the economy

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