Legislature begins passing budget, online gambling bills

Associated Press
LANSING — The Republican-controlled Legislature began voting Thursday to legalize online gambling and to spend more on roads and environmental cleanup — despite criticism that it would shift money that otherwise should go to Michigan schools.
The mid-fiscal year legislation is a final chance for GOP Gov. Rick Snyder and many lawmakers to put an imprint on state spending before they leave office. The gambling measures, approved overwhelmingly by the Senate, would make Michigan the fifth state where online wagers would be legal.
An 8 percent tax would be collected from wagers, minus winnings paid out — which would be less than a 19 percent tax now paid by Detroit’s three casinos. Those casinos could seek an internet gambling license. Michigan’s 23 tribal casinos could conduct online gambling if they secure authorization from the state through a compact.
One budget-related bill, passed on a largely party-line vote in the Senate and sent to the House in the closing hours of a lame-duck session, would permanently dedicate $69 million a year to Snyder’s proposed “Renew Michigan” fund for cleaning up contaminated sites, recycling and waste management. The funding in part would replace a voter-approved bond issue that is drying up and is a backup plan after legislators rejected Snyder’s call for increasing the state fee to haul waste to landfills.
The measure also would boost road construction spending by more than $100 million this year and next, and is part of a multi-bill package that is expected to total at least $600 million more in spending or savings.
Tax collections are up due to the economy and a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling that enabled the state to collect taxes on more online purchases.
Democrats and school groups blasted the bill because the online tax windfall would regularly go to education spending and instead would be redirected to other priorities.
“There are a lot of bad ideas generated during any lame-duck session, but paying for road repairs out of money intended for our classrooms may be one of the worst I’ve heard,” Mark Greathead, superintendent of the Woodhaven-Brownstown School District in suburban Detroit, said in a statement. He also is vice president of the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education, which represents school districts in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.
Also Thursday, lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to let municipalities restrict the use of fireworks on more days and narrowly approved a bill that would let Michigan businesses count out-of-state workers for the purposes of qualifying for state economic development incentives.