Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration has added new controls on money spent for a handful of legislators’ pet projects, allowing the state to recoup unspent or misused funds and requiring regular updates.
The changes were adopted this week several months after Whitmer derided more than $115 million for over 70 projects that the Legislature and her Republican predecessor, Rick Snyder, approved just days before she took office.
Whitmer’s administration had put several grants on hold and rejected five others for technical errors. The new legislation, which she’s expected to sign, fixes those with technical errors.
A treasury official said Wednesday the state it will fund a controversial $10 million grant that had raised eyebrows within the administration. Kurt Weiss, a spokesman for the state budget office, said the state will disburse money to build water and sewer lines in suburban Detroit that will benefit a company headed by Bobby Schostak, the former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party.
The changes were included in a $28.8 million spending bill that provides $5 million to help the state with the upcoming Census and money for drinking water safety, food for the poor and the clergy sex abuse investigation underway by Attorney General Dana Nessel, who like Whitmer is a Democrat.
On the last day of the lame duck session in December, legislators approved a $1.3 billion spending bill that included the grant money largely pushed by Republican senators and representatives.
The bill restores funding to five projects that were approved during the waning days of the lame duck session, including road and dam projects and $2 million for a controversial effort to bring commercial rocket activity to northern Michigan.
Whitmer’s administration refused to fund the five because of technical errors. The legislative wording, cobbled together at the last minute, was either too vague or authorized funding in the wrong communities, the budget office said earlier this year.
In Janurary, Whitmer’s administration had blocked a $10 million grant for a project that would benefit the family business of Schostak, the former GOP chairman.
Schostak Brothers & Co. had spent $28 million to assemble more than 560 acres in Salem Township just east of Ann Arbor. The mostly vacant land, located off an M-14 exit in the growing Ann Arbor-Canton Township-Detroit corridor, cannot be built upon without water and sewer service. Schostak Brothers & Co. of Livonia wants to bring more than 800 homes and retail and office to the area.
But the township, which is supposed to spend the money, did not ask for the grant, nor another $10 million grant the legislature awarded in 2017. Former Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof told Bridge that he pushed the grant, arguing it would boost economic development in the region.