Senate OKs road cash, accounts for Medicaid delay

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Senate voted Thursday to set aside $100 million for this winter’s higher-than-usual road maintenance bills and adjust the state budget to account for a three-month delay in the state’s Medicaid expansion.

The mid-year spending legislation, approved 32-6 by the Republican-led chamber, next goes to the House.

“We’ll see if they want to spend the same amount as we do, but we sent a message as to where we are,” said Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe.

The bill includes $100 million in emergency aid for state and local road agencies grappling with increased salt usage, overtime pay and other costs stemming from this winter’s near-record snowfall. There’s also another $2 million in the measure to help municipalities mitigate tree damage and debris caused by a December ice storm.

The money would be redirected from additional funding that could have gone to longer-lasting road and bridge projects.

Through the end of January, the state Transportation Department had used 440,000-plus tons of salt, 80 percent more than that timespan last winter. The agency expects to use more than 600,000 tons this season, the most since 760,000 tons of salt was spread in the winter of 2007-08.

The bill also would adjust the current budget to account for the loss of $73 million in expected savings after Senate Republicans delayed the expansion of Medicaid from January to April. Gov. Rick Snyder persuaded just enough Republicans in September to agree to a key component of the federal health care law in the summer but not enough to give the law immediate effect.

Democrats have accused Senate Republicans of being fiscally irresponsible because Michigan would have saved more by expanding Medicaid earlier by being able to pay mental health and substance abuse treatment costs with federal Medicaid dollars instead of state funding.

Six Republicans, including Sen. John Proos of St. Joseph, voted against the legislation, which supporters said is needed in part because mental health agencies could run out of money in March without addressing the funding issue caused by the delayed Medicaid expansion.

“The implementation of Obamacare is going to continue to be a significant risk for the state of Michigan and for the taxpayers of Michigan,” Proos said. “This is just one example of us having to address the unintended consequences of this implementation.”

The measure also would set aside $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.

Other highlights of the bill include:

- $16 million for improvements at National Guard armories across the state.

- $7 million from an energy assistance fund to help low-income residents facing a propane shortage brought on in part by heavy demand during abnormally cold weather.

- $6.7 million to restore state funding for the Hutzel Women’s Hospital in Detroit, which delivers more than 4,500 at-risk babies a year, more than any other hospital in Michigan. The money, which typically brings a $13.3 million federal match, was cut in the current budget.

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