Whitmer wants to restore less than half of Pure Michigan aid

Craig Mauger Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — The state's Pure Michigan tourism campaign would get back about 40% of its previous funding while other economic development programs get a boost in aid under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's $61.9 billion budget proposal.

Whitmer is proposing $15 million in funding for Pure Michigan for Fiscal Year 2021, less than half of the $37.5 million it received before she eliminated its funding last year through a veto. The governor is also proposing $100 million in funding for the state's business attraction efforts — a $20.6 million increase from the current year — according to a budget proposal that was presented Thursday to state lawmakers.

Bars, restaurants and stores begin reopening Friday in northern Michigan and the UP.

"This adjustment restores funding to an appropriate investment level to support job creation, stimulate private investment, and revitalize and redevelop vital properties in communities across the state," a document from the State Budget Office said.

Pressures on the General Fund, Michigan's main spending account, prevent the state from appropriating more to the program, prompting the state government to lean on the tourism industry for funding help, Whitmer and Budget Director Chris Kolb told reporters Thursday. 

"The tourism industry I know thinks that there should be additional dollars there, and I’m eager to work with them in terms of where those dollars might come from," Whitmer said.

But the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Midland free-market-oriented group that has advocated eliminating Pure Michigan funding, opposed restoring any money for the tourism promotion program.

"If the tourism industry can come together to advocate that the government fund a tourism advertising campaign, perhaps they should just cut out the middle-man and pay for it themselves," center spokesman Jarrett Skorup said in a tweet.

The state's current budget approved by the Republican-controlled state Legislature and signed into law by Whitmer reduced funding for "business attraction and community revitalization" by $26 million, or about 25%. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. said the funding cut would eliminate "the creation of more than 5,000 jobs."

Whitmer also vetoed $37.5 million for Pure Michigan, the state's tourism campaign, and $37.2 million for Going Pro, a skilled trades and jobs program. The vetoes were part of a larger effort by Whitmer's administration to try to force the state's GOP legislative leaders back to the negotiating table to make budget adjustments.

Under Whitmer's new proposal, Pure Michigan would receive $15 million and Going Pro would receive $27.9 million, according to State Budget Office documents.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2021 presented on Thursday funds the Pure Michigan tourism campaign and provides $100 million in funding for business attraction and community revitalization efforts.

The Pure Michigan dollars would go to "promote Michigan as a travel destination," according to the State Budget Office.

Michigan tourism and hospitality industries are still dealing with last year's elimination of Pure Michigan aid, making "it difficult to have a discussion about the specifics of potential funding for Pure Michigan in 2021," said Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association. 

“We are willing and ready to be part of the solution going forward, but the time for political theater is over," Winslow said in a statement. " Fix the mistake, restore Pure Michigan, and let’s move forward together for the best interests of our state and residents.” 

The appropriate level of economic development funding has been debated for years at the Capitol.

The 2020 budget cut sent "a signal that Michigan is unilaterally disarming when it comes to business attraction and opportunity," according to a past MEDC document.

But Rep. Mark Huizenga, R-Walker, who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee that worked on economic development programs, has said lawmakers were trying to free up money to invest in road improvements and that Michigan had a low unemployment rate. Whitmer vetoed the extra $375 million for road and bridge improvements, resulting in a $2.4 million funding decrease for the Michigan Department of Transportation. 

"Especially when times are really good, there is probably less urgency to put dollars toward those programs," Huizenga said.

The governor's budget proposal kicks off months of deliberation and negotiations to create a plan for the upcoming year. Under a new law, the Legislature must deliver a final spending plan to Whitmer by July 1.