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Michigan lawmakers move to approve $37M pet projects on Election Day

Pork projects gain favor

The budget standoff between the Republican-controlled legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, appears resolved with two new funding bills. But in addition to more money for the Pure Michigan campaign and higher ed, they include $37 million in grants that some feel are unnecessary.

Water Line Replacement – Clare$2,500,000
Great Lakes Nature Center at Detroit Zoo$2,000,000
Kalamazoo County Road Project$1,800,000
Old Mission Road Repaving and Rehabilitation$1,500,000
Houghton County State Infrastructure Bank Loan Repayment$1,400,000
North American Auto Show$1,000,000
Chaldean Community Foundation$1,000,000
Holy Cross Services$1,000,000
Ferrysburg Bridge$1,000,000
Sloan Museum$1,000,000
Van Andel Institute$1,000,000
United Methodist Community House$1,000,000
Western Upper Peninsula Workforce Development Retirement Shortfall$971,000
Amity Foundation$750,000
Langley Covered Bridge$750,000
Lansing Fire Department Ladder Truck$750,000
North Flint Food Market$700,000
Madison Heights Electroplating Services Building Demolition$600,000
City of Lansing – Capitol Security Cameras$500,000
City of Lansing – Enhanced Security at Capitol for Large Events$500,000
Detroit Symphony Orchestra Elevator Replacement$500,000
Detroit Public Television Early Childhood Programming$500,000
Delta Township Fire Engine$500,000
Southgate Sound Wall Project$500,000
Six Points Park Development$500,000
Special Operations and Response Vehicle – Bloomfield Township$500,000
Garden City Fire Station$500,000
Huron Valley Schools Infrastructure Project$500,000
Oakland County is Better With Breakfast$500,000
Rouge Park Picnic Shelters$500,000
Parchment Water Treatment Plant$450,000
Highscope Research Foundation$300,000
Flint Development Center$300,000
Riverside Arts Center$300,000
Pershing High School Military Training$270,000
Commerce Charter Township Roundabout Study$250,000
Great Lakes Center for the Arts$250,000
Plymouth Cultural Center$250,000
Sterling Heights Greenspace Initiative$250,000
Children's Center – Detroit$250,000
Union Steel Building Demolition$250,000
Conductive Learning$250,000
Council on State Governments Conference – Detroit$250,000
Helmets to Hardhats$250,000
Disability Network$250,000
Air Filters for Detroit Public Schools$250,000
Michigan Center for Civic Education$225,000
Manton Library$200,000
Henrietta Township Fire Truck$200,000
Talen Development Coalition$200,000
Naval Museum Infrastructure Grant$200,000
Corridor Infrastructure Project$200,000
Team CARES$200,000
Mount Clemens School Roof Repair$200,000
Water Line Replacement – Burton$200,000
Chest Compression Devices – Sterling Heights Fire Dept$200,000
Castor Road Project$200,000
Linden Creek Pathways$200,000
Neighborhood Greenspace Initiative – Detroit$175,000
Ingham County Sheriff's Department Body Scanners$175,000
Road Lane Upgrade – St. Johns Dairy Processing Plant$150,000
Holiday Camp$150,000
Broadband Cooperative Infrastructure Grant$150,000
Child and Family Charities$125,000
Muskegon Prosecutor$120,000
Bailey Park Upgrades$120,000
Hope-not-Handcuffs -- Families Against Narcotics$100,000
Beat the Streets$100,000
Kent County Youth Sex Offender Diversion Program$100,000
City of Clawson Downtown Development Authority$100,000
Lathrup Village Bike Path$100,000
Center for Transformation$100,000
Washtenaw Youth Development Pilot$100,000
Goudy Park$100,000
Eden Park Infrastructure Projects$100,000
Governor Warner Historic Mansion Renovation$85,000
St. Louis Center$50,000
Michilimackinac Historical Museum$50,000
Washtenaw County Pest Control$50,000
Living and Enrichment Center$50,000
Depot Town Parking Ramp Study$30,000
Mercure Park$25,000
Binder Street Block Club$25,000
Walled Lake Schools STEM Grants$7,500

One year after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer derided millions in “pork” spending, she appears set to approve $37 million on similar projects for parks, arts centers and special infrastructure plans.

On the same day as Tuesday’s presidential primary, the state House approved $320 million in spending bills that include $35 million for a program Whitmer supports to help adults seeking higher education.

The bills, which are before the state Senate, also include $37 million in “enhancement grants” for a host of small projects in lawmakers’ districts.

Among them: $1.5 million to fix Old Mission Road in Traverse City; $1 million for a bridge in Ferrysburg, just off Lake Michigan, $2 millon for the Detroit Zoo, $1 million for the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, and money for 81 other projects including $700,000 for the North Flint Food Market and $500,000 for a Detroit Symphony Orchestra elevator.

Whitmer intends to sign the bills if the Senate passes them, said Kurt Weiss, a spokesman for the state budget office.

The Democratic governor and leaders of the Legislature controlled by Republicans have worked for months to iron out leftover disputes caused by last year’s budget, Weiss said.

This week’s bills restore some funding from the impasse that included accusations from Whitmer that she was shut out of negotiations and vetoes from the governor totaling nearly $1 billion. 

“This was a budget negotiation,” Weiss said, “a real negotiation, not like what happened last year.”

Six lawmakers voted against the spending plan, including state Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, who called it a “garbage spending bill.” 

“No transparency, and lots of pork spending,” he wrote in a text message to Bridge. “Sad day for the taxpayers.”

The spending bills also restore $16 million in funding for the Pure Michigan ad campaign that Whitmer had vetoed; $35 million for the Michigan Reconnect program for grants to adults over 25 who are seeing a certificate, like welding, or an associate’s degree; $25 million to handle the coronavirus threat and $31 million to settle lawsuits with the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Department of Corrections.

But the deal also includes a fair amount of supplemental grants that Whitmer last year criticized.

In her first month in office, in January 2019, Whitmer said she was frustrated by the $100 million in grants, including money to develop land tied to a former Michigan state Republican Party chairman.

At the time, Whitmer said the money would have been better spent on roads and improving water quality.

This week’s spending bills include a litany of small projects including: 

  • $25,000 for Mercure Park in southern Wayne County
  • $7,500 grant for the Walled Lake schools’ STEM program
  • $100,000 for Goudy Park in western Wayne County
  • $100,000 for a bike path in Lathrup Village

There are other bigger items, including $2.5 million for a water line in Clare, $1.8 million for a Kalamazoo County road project and $1 million apiece for the Chaldean Community Foundation in Sterling Heights, Holy Cross Services substance abuse treatment nonprofit with mid-Michigan locations, Sloan Museum in Burton, Van Andel Institute biomedical research group in Grand Rapids, Educare preschools and United Methodist Community House in Grand Rapids. 

House GOP spokesman Gideon D’Assandro said the timing had nothing to do with the presidential primary election. 

“This is the date when the House, Senate and the governor were able to agree on a plan,” he said. 

Enhancement grants are “projects that members feel are doing a good job serving their local communities and could use state support in a unique situation,” he said.

Several of the enhancement grants restore items vetoed by Whitmer, he said. 

The spending plan also includes $250,000 in public funding to reimburse private schools for government mandates, like fire drills. 

Previous appropriations of that kind have been suspended while the Michigan Supreme Court considers their constitutionality.

Whitmer has argued the Michigan Constitution strictly prohibits public funding for private schools, except to help cover transportation costs.

“I understand the courts are involved, but at the same time, it’s a good policy that the members in the chamber support and want to continue,” D’Assandro said. 

Sarah Hubbard, a Lansing lobbyist, said the Capitol had been rife for days with rumors a deal was imminent. She said the timing on Election Day is likely coincidental but “there may be things far more nefarious at play.”

“I’m sure there’s going to be a couple things that seem out of left field,” Hubbard said, but added that all appropriations are listed online so “there’s no hiding this.”

Editor's note: This story was updated March 11 to reflect that six lawmakers voted against the spending plan. 

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