Legislators add $52M in pork earmarks to Michigan budget

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Michigan House Speaker Tom Leonard on Tuesday, June 12, 2018, defended the insertion of $52 million in targeted earmarks into the 2019 budget that were requested by lawmakers.

Lansing — Michigan legislators on Tuesday sent Gov. Rick Snyder a $56.8 billion budget that will cut state general funding spending by 2.3 percent next year, but still managed to add pork.

The fiscal year 2019 budget outlines $22 million in targeted earmarks for pet projects requested by legislators, including $1.9 million to replace a parking lot and beach house at Grand Haven State Park.

A separate current-year supplemental spending bill features $30 million in earmarks for specific transportation projects, including $2.4 million for a Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation Trails extension.

House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, defended the targeted appropriations Tuesday evening after finalizing the spending bills, calling them “part of the budget process."

Metro Detroit earmarks include $500,000 grants for the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit and the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills.

The $30 million in transportation earmarks include $1.25 million for work on South Boulevard, which runs through Troy and Rochester Hills; $297,200 for a Mound Road turnaround; and $100,000 for the repaving of Summers Street in Utica.

The state will funnel another $300 million in extra road spending through a traditional funding formula next year, Leonard noted. Public Act 51 of 1951 dictates how the state divides road funding between local agencies.

When asked whether he got a project in his district, Leonard told reporters he did not ask for one but said he was not sure whether a project that borders Ingham and Clinton counties falls in his district.

“It is not one that I asked for,” said Leonard, who is running for attorney general. “My goal was to put all the road funding that we could through the PA 51 formula.”

Most of the targeted transportation projects were requested by individual lawmakers and then reviewed by legislative leaders and Snyder’s office, said Senate Appropriations Chairman Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell.

Republicans currently control all branches of state government — and the purse strings — but Senate leadership said at least some earmarks were requested by Democrats.

While state and local road agencies have their own long-term plans for road repairs, “I think there are some unique needs out there that wouldn’t meet (the Michigan Department of Transportation's) five-year plan," Hildenbrand said.

“Maybe some county roads or more rural projects that otherwise wouldn’t be funded that quickly. So I do think it’s a good way to utilize resources and make sure it’s prioritized where there’s need across the state.”

The earmarks require creative budget language to get around a state constitutional provision meant to discourage laws focused on single municipalities.

The $2.4 million Traverse-area project, for instance, is described as a trail extension in a county with a population of between 86,000 and 87,000 and a city with a population between 14,500 and 15,000 in the 2010 Census.

Grand Traverse County had an estimated 86,986 people at the turn of the decade, and Traverse City had a population of 14,674.

Other “enhancement grants” approved this week include $1.4 million for an Oceana County Trail project, $1.15 million for Grand River environmental testing and dredging, and $1 million for the Grand Rapids Civic Theater.

Hildenbrand, wrapping up work on his final budget before term limits force him out of office, also noted that he did not personally request any of the earmarks for his district.

“I should do my job a little better,” he joked.

Staff reporter Beth LeBlanc contributed.