Mich. lawmakers pump $115M of pork into $1.3B spending bill

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Michigan Senate.

Lansing – Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature wrapped up its two-year term early Friday morning by sending Gov. Rick Snyder a $1.3 billion spending plan that includes $115.5 million in extra funding for lawmaker pet projects.

The lame-duck spending bill, sent to Snyder’s desk with bipartisan support after lawmakers worked through the night during their final meeting of the year, includes 74 specific “enhancement grants.” These are typically requested by individual legislators.

Earmarks include $1.3 million for restoration work on the Lowell Showboat, a historic ship that had been open to the public until last year, when the city closed it down amid "health, safety and welfare" concerns. Local officials recently removed “Robert E. Lee” from the showboat’s name amid controversy over the Confederate homage.

The spending bill also includes $500,000 for road repairs on Mackinac Island, where cars are not allowed but horses are still utilized, and $1 million for the Michilimackinac Historical Cultural Center. 

The extra spending comes as many lawmakers prepare to leave office due to term limits, but it is not unusual. The state Legislature in June added $52 million in pork to a separate budget bill. 

Legislators approved $1.3 million for restoration work on the Lowell Showboat. The fifth version of the boat, built in 1979, closed to the public in January 2017.

The new mid-year supplemental includes a $10 million grant to benefit an “urban services district” in Salem Township, a community in northeast Washtenaw County that is home to an estimated 6,108 residents; $5 million for Muskegon Lake Cleanup; $4 million for a Muskegon Industrial Park, and $3 million for a Macomb County retention basin.

Grand Rapids appeared to be one of the larger winners in the spending plan, which included $5 million for upgrades at the Gerald R. Ford Airport, $1.5 million for the Children’s Museum STEAM LAB, $1 million for John Ball Zoo, $300,000 for the Grand Rapids Public School T2C Studio and $250,000 for a Junior Achievement Free Enterprise Center.

The spending plan will help fund "several worthy projects" in legislator's districts that "may depend on some sort of start-up money or matching money so they can get what they want to get done," said Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-Grand Haven Township.

The state funding can help local organizers "bridge their gap so they can finish their financing or start their financing so they can finish a project that's important to that community," Meekhof said.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said he was not personally aware of every earmark but said the bill had "a lot of good things that people wanted and had been working on for a long time.

"I think it's a good way to go out the door," said Ananich, who helped secure $500,000 for a STEM program at Sloan Museum in Flint and $208,000 for air conditioning repairs to help city schools move toward a year-round calendar.

Some of the earmarks helped Metro Detroit nonprofits.

The Arab American and Chaldean Council, which provides health care among its many programs, received $200,000 for a "primary care physician." Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan got $100,000. And the Detroit Police Athletic League received $50,000.

The Detroit Economic Development Association received $2 million for "PGA upgrades." The private Detroit Golf Club in June will be hosting the city's first-ever Professional Golf Association event, sponsored by Quicken Loans.

The Dearborn Heights Fire Department got $300,000 for unspecified reasons.

There were a bunch of infrastructure grants. The bill earmarks $2.7 million for the Bagley Street pedestrian bridge in Detroit's Mexicantown neighborhood, which was built years ago as part of the $230 million I-75 Gateway Project.

Beyond the local grants, the budget deal also includes $18 million for the state Senate to purchase a parking structure it is currently renting in Lansing to add spaces for legislators, staff and other permitted users. There is an additional $10.4 million for the Legislature to cover the increased cost for staffing and operations, including ongoing legal costs.

Snyder, who helped negotiate the larger spending bill, is expected to sign it into law before leaving office on Jan. 1, when Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer will be sworn in.