Flint, MI—Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the state of Michigan’s education and general budgets in mid-July, solidifying millions of dollars in financing for Flint’s struggling pension fund, students, and multiple community organizations.
Flint Beat spoke with some of the officials who helped secure those dollars. Here’s what they believe are the biggest wins for Flint in each budget:
The state budget includes $220 million to, in the words of Michigan State Sen. Jim Ananich, “shore up Flint’s pension fund.”
During city budget discussions in May 2022, Flint’s Chief Financial Officer Robert Widigan noted that without such a “cash infusion from the state,” the city faced insolvency, or the inability to pay its debts.
At that time, Flint’s pension fund was just under 27 percent funded, which officials noted was uncommon and worrying.
“In terms of people, what this means is for every active employee you have participating in the retirement system, there are four retirees and beneficiaries,” said David Kausch, a representative from business management consultancy Gabriel, Roeder, Smith & Company, to Flint City Council at a May 12 budget hearing.
The $220 million infusion from the state budget brings Flint’s pension fund to 60 percent funded, keeping money the city would have otherwise had to allocate toward pension payments in its general fund instead.
“Obviously, most folks don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘I really want to make sure the pension system is fixed,” said Ananich, a Flint resident himself. “They want their police and fire [departments] to come when they call.”
But, Ananich continued, the $220 million means not only is Flint on a path to ensure it fulfills its obligations to former and current employees, it also means city officials can respond to more direct resident concerns.
“Just as importantly, [the pension fund allocation] frees up tens of millions of dollars every year that can now go towards making sure we have good police response, an adequate fire department, blight [elimination] and demo and all the things we do think about,” Ananich said.
According to Whitmer’s office, this year’s education budget includes the highest state per-pupil funding ever.
By the numbers, state funding “will invest an average of $976 more dollars into all the nearly 60,000 public school students in Genesee County,” a Whitmer representative shared in an email. “Specifically for the School District of the City of Flint, it’s $1,287 per pupil for approximately 3,000 students.”
The education budget allocates money toward mental health and school safety for every young person in every public school district across the state, provides funding to get students “back on track” with tutoring and after-school programs, and provides tuition for future Michigan educators. All of which led State Rep. John Cherry to say he felt this year’s education budget was “revolutionary.”
“It’s the best school aid budget I’ve ever seen,” Cherry said. “It’s providing major support, financial support, to address special education needs and at-risk youth.”
Cherry explained that such funding was extra important because “it doesn’t cost the same amount to educate every child.”
Cherry noted he came from a middle-class, two-parent household where he had felt a sense of stability and was given “lots of support.”
“I was an easier kid to educate because of all of the benefits that I had in my home life and the fact that I didn’t have any learning disabilities,” he said. “If you’re educating a kid who needs special education, well, that takes a lot more resources than it does educating the kid I was.”
Cherry added that he felt Flint and Genesee County would see some of the greatest benefits in the state from the education bill because “we have a higher percentage of special-ed or at-risk or English-language learners than other parts of the state.”
Aside from the large pools of money going toward Flint’s pension fund and students, Ananich pointed out many smaller projects in Flint that also received support through the state budget, such as the Martus Luna Food Pantry.
“Right now, it’s exclusively a volunteer organization,” Ananich said. “We got $150,000 to help them secure a building.”
Though the pantry recently moved to the city’s south side from its former east side location in the Latinx Technology Center, Ananich said the organization had been hoping to move back to the east side.
“They just do really, really good work and for a long time, they’ve just been pulling things together,” Ananich said.
According to lists provided by Ananich and Whitmer’s offices, other Flint-focused funding includes:
- $3 million in additional funding for Michigan School for the Deaf
- $3 million for a community policing and engagement effort called the GIVE Model Pilot Program in the Michigan House of Representatives’ Fiscal Analysis
- $2.5 million for Insight Behavioral Health to renovate its South Saginaw Street building into a new behavioral health facility
- $1.5 million for Hamilton Community Health Network to open an east side clinic
- $1 million for Educare
- $500,000 for Berston Field House
- $500,000 for the Ennis Center
- $500,000 for the Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village
- $500,000 for the Flint Children’s Museum
- $500,000 for St. Marks Community Outreach Center
- $250,000 for Crossover Outreach to put toward construction on its new center
- $250,000 for the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Flint
Aside from city-specific dollars, Whitmer’s office also pointed to $4 million “to retain current funding for Genesee County’s public safety initiative,” which “relieves jail overcrowding and backlogs.”
The governor’s team also noted the state budget includes a $35 million scheduled annual payment toward the state’s $600-million settlement regarding the Flint water crisis.