Published in Economic Development
Tourism, workforce development spending on hold as Whitmer boosts COVID response MIBIZ FILE PHOTO: KATY BATDORFF

Tourism, workforce development spending on hold as Whitmer boosts COVID response

BY ANDY BALASKOVITZ and JESSICA YOUNG Wednesday, April 01, 2020 05:15am

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and legislative leaders agreed on budget changes this week adding $150 million toward fighting the coronavirus while putting spending on hold for other projects.

Whitmer’s budget vetoes announced Monday total $167.5 million, including $79.8 million from the General Fund. The cuts affect a variety of infrastructure, research and workforce development projects in West Michigan.

More than a third of the line-item vetoes meant to be added to the current fiscal year were directed at the state’s signature tourism advertising campaign — Pure Michigan ($16 million) — and two workforce development programs, Going Pro and Reconnect, totaling $50 million.

“For Pure Michigan and Reconnect and everything else on the veto list, those are items that won’t be funded from any source at this time as we focus our efforts on COVID-19,” said Kurt Weiss, spokesperson for the Department of Technology, Management and Budget. “We may be able to revisit some of those items down the road, but it’s too difficult to say at this point what our funding and budget will look like after COVID-19.”

During a press conference Monday, Whitmer said “now is not the time” for additional state spending outside of responding to the coronavirus outbreak. Also on Monday, Whitmer announced a temporary suspension of new hires and discretionary spending at state agencies.

Michigan has now spent more than $130 million to acquire various medical supplies and equipment, including 20 million masks, more than 2,000 ventilators and 210,000 testing supplies. The budget negotiations maintained $25 million for COVID-19 response efforts and $55 million to boost hospital outpatient rates amid the coronavirus response.

Other line items that “did survive” during the budget negotiations include $31 million for court-ordered legal settlements, $19 million to pay down debt in a statewide venture capital fund, $14 million legally required reimbursements for municipalities for presidential primary elections, and $4 million to continue critical oil and gas inspections, Weiss said.

WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT, TOURISM

The state budget proposal originally presented to lawmakers last fall allocated $27.9 million for Going Pro, which provides grants for employers seeking training for new and current employees in high-demand and skilled trades. Whitmer line-item vetoed funding for the program in October amid a budget dispute with the Republican-led state Legislature. 

The Going Pro funds are allocated through regional Michigan Works! offices, which are working with the state to help employers wade through the current cuts, said Merri Bennett, business services and communications director at Michigan Works! West Central. 

“I don’t think that the governor didn’t think (Going Pro) was important. I think she did, but she just had other priorities,” Bennett said. “What happened was the coronavirus just blew everything else out of the water.” 

Michigan Works! organizations still have weekly phone calls with the state about the Going Pro funds, Bennett added. 

“Not once during any of our calls have they said this fund is going away,” Bennett said. “Just from an emergency standpoint, we all understand that the state government is doing what they have to do to get us through this. After that, I absolutely think discussions will come up again.” 

A total of 26 employers filed applications with Michigan Works! West Central, which covers Mason, Mecosta, Lake, Newaygo, Oceana and Osceola counties. Nealy $625,000 was requested and employers expected to match that investment with more than $3 million to train a total of 543 employees in the area, according to Bennett. 

Employers that requested Going Pro funds for this year have mostly been understanding about the new alterations to the state budget, according to Amy Lebednick, business solutions director at West Michigan Works! in Grand Rapids. 

“There has been overwhelming support and understanding from the business community that this was really necessary for our state to shift its priorities and focus to keep those dollars strategized towards what our needs are,” Lebednick said.

The $35 million for Michigan Reconnect is funded through the state’s Talent Investment Fund, and is a “tuition-free opportunity” for residents at least 25 years old to take courses for an industry certificate or associate degree.

Dave Lorenz, vice president of Travel Michigan, wrote in a letter to Pure Michigan “industry partners” this week that while losing $16 million for the remainder of this year’s budget is “disappointing,” it was also “the right thing to do.”

“There is also no doubt we are facing the biggest threat to our industry, certainly since the Great Recession,” Lorenz wrote. “We pulled together and came through that difficult time stronger than ever and I know we will come through this, too. In the meantime, we must continue to lead by example and do everything possible to share the Pure Michigan story, as resources we traditionally have for promotional efforts are redeployed to the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19.”

WEST MICHIGAN PROJECTS

The budget supplementals and enhancement grants affect a variety of workforce development, research and infrastructure projects in West Michigan.

The budget supplement vetoes include $2 million for a federally qualified health center in Muskegon, which was “intended to ensure continued access to needed health services for patients previously served through Muskegon Family Care,” budget documents show.

In West Michigan, more than $5 million in grants from the state’s General Fund was vetoed for local governments, research institutions, road projects and community workforce development. The enhancement grant vetoes include:

  • $1 million for a bridge repair project in Ferrysburg;
  • $450,000 for a water treatment plant in Parchment, whose public water supply system was the first identified in Michigan with excessive levels of PFAS;
  • $1.8 million for a redesigned Business Route 131 in Kalamazoo;
  • $1 million in funds for the Van Andel Institute to match federal, private and nonprofit grants and contributions;
  • $250,000 for operational costs at the Aquinas College Conductive Learning Center, which uses an education model to help improve mobility of children and adults with neuromotor disabilities;
  • $250,000 to help with demolition costs for the Union Steel building in Albion; and
  • $100,000 to the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation, a partnership between businesses, churches and nonprofits to support job and career training for young adults.

Read 3283 times
SUBSCRIBE TO MIBIZ TODAY FOR WEST MICHIGAN’S FINEST BUSINESS NEWS REPORTING >