Michigan governor requests millions in tax dollars for legal defense

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has requested $1.2 million to pay for his defense attorneys in lawsuits against the state government for mishandling and failing to prevent the Flint water crisis. 

Paul Sancya/Associated Press
In this Feb. 26, 2016 file photo, Gov. Rick Snyder speaks after attending a Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee meeting in Flint, Mich. A lawsuit stemming from Flint's lead-contaminated water was filed Monday, March 7, 2016 on behalf of the city's residents against Gov. Snyder as well as other current and former government officials and corporations.

Amid calls for him to resign, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is requesting $1.2 million to pay for his defense attorneys in the ongoing Flint water crisis case. Additionally, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is calling for $1.5 million to pay an independent investigation of the government’s involvement in the crisis.

State lawmakers – namely, Democrats – are critical of these plans detailed on the March 8 agenda of the State Administrative Board. They say the money should instead go toward remedying the contaminated water problem in Flint, where thousands of residents have been drinking lead-polluted tap water for years.

"Paying more for high-priced lawyers than we are for school nurses or fully refunding victims is another kick in the teeth to taxpayers and my community,” state Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, (D) of Flint, told Michigan Live.

“Our priority should be sending every resource we can to removing pipes and protecting kids, not covering legal fees."  

The water crisis dates back to nearly two years ago, when Flint residents discovered their tap water’s brown color and odd taste. Until reports detailing the dangerously high levels of lead in the taps arose, local officials largely neglected the complaints. Lead is a neurotoxin that can cause serious health problems, especially among children.

Since the ensuing investigation, Governor Snyder has become the target of ire as allegations grew that government officials as well as state agencies ignored the facts that pointed to the water’s toxicity.

"It's beyond outrageous that Snyder wants to take $1.2 million from Michigan taxpayers to pay for defense attorneys over his involvement in the poisoning of Flint's water," Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon said in a statement.

"That money should go toward replacing lead pipes and getting safe drinking water to Flint families, not for Snyder's defense attorneys,” he added.

According to Ari Adler, spokesman for the governor's office, the proposed legal costs are for processing an "enormous amount of data" as part of the investigation.

There are now more than a handful of lawsuits filed against the government, including a class-action suit that was filed earlier this week on behalf of seven families in Flint.

"You can't just magically make things appear," Mr. Adler said. "You have to search for them and process them."

And according to spokeswoman Andrea Bitely, Attorney General Schuette will be using the money for "running an independent, broad-based investigation team that will leave no stone unturned."

"That is what the citizens of Flint, and Michigan as a whole, want and deserve," Ms. Bitely told Detroit News. "With a crisis of this magnitude making families' daily lives a struggle and shaking the trust of citizens in their government, we will not do a half-baked investigation on the cheap.

"We will get answers."

The complete resolution of the Flint water crisis will likely take years. The US Environmental Protection Agency filters given to Flint residents to purify the tainted water will not fully protect Flint residents with the highest levels of lead in their taps. Experts say a comprehensive remedy of the situation will require an overhaul of the local water infrastructure system.

As officials are still gathering information to devise a full analysis of the crisis, Bridge Magazine's Michigan Truth Squad has created a preliminary, 30,000-word timeline that points to the faults of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the EPA, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and Mr. Snyder’s administration.

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