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Michigan Panel Plans $100M For Plowing, Potholes

LANSING (AP) - Michigan would spend $100 million more this year to repair potholes and help local governments recoup snowplowing and salting costs that have piled up amid near-record snowfall under spending legislation approaching an initial vote in the Legislature.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday added the road maintenance funding to a mid-year budget bill that the Republican-led panel is expected to approve Thursday. Roughly $78 million would be split evenly between state and county road agencies; the other $22 million would go to cities and villages.

"There's an emergency - a serious pothole problem - which is about to get much worse," said Sen. John Pappageorge, R-Troy, warning that warmer weather this week followed by freezing temperatures again next week will make the roads bumpier.

It's good and bad news for road agencies.

They would get emergency help in a state where Detroit has had the third-snowiest winter on record, Grand Rapids the eight-snowiest and Flint the 10th-snowiest, according to the National Weather Service. But the aid would come from a pot of funding that otherwise could have gone to longer-term projects instead of maintenance.

The current $3.6 billion state transportation budget includes an extra $230 million for roads or other "risks."

Lawmakers in December announced half of the surplus money would fund more than 100 state and local road resurfacing and bridge projects across Michigan. They want to use all but $15 million of the balance to help address winter costs.

Another $2 million would go municipalities to mitigate tree-related damage and debris caused by a December ice storm that knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of state residents.

The legislation also would adjust the current budget to account for $73 million less in savings than expected after Senate Republicans delayed the expansion of Medicaid until April instead of January. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder had planned to save money primarily by paying mental health and substance abuse treatment costs with federal Medicaid dollars, and Democrats have accused the Senate GOP of acting irresponsibly.

The bill also would spend $115 million because a tax on health insurance claims is bringing in less a year than expected. Without resolving the issue, Michigan could lose up to $400 million in a Medicaid match from the U.S. government.

Asked if he thinks the budget measure could re-ignite the fight over expanding Medicaid, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw Township, said he thinks the debate has shifted a bit because community mental health agencies are at risk of losing funding on March 15 if nothing is done to move money around.

"The folks who don't like Medicaid expansion, many of them believe that we have to restore the budget losses," he said. "That ... is not as controversial as you might think, and the number of votes to pass this have moved well beyond the vote totals that were there (before) for Medicaid expansion.

The supplemental budget bill is different than what Snyder proposed.

Senators plan to include nearly $16 million to make improvements at National Guard armories across the state, an issue not addressed by the governor in the mid-year budget measure. They also are opposed for now to allocating $170,000 for Snyder's new Michigan Office for New Americans, which he created last month to attract immigrants to the state.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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