Snyder: House GOP road plan is costing jobs

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Mackinac Island — The House Republican plan to divert Michigan’s economic development funding toward road repairs is costing the state potential jobs and business investment, Gov. Rick Snyder said Thursday.

In a keynote speech at the Mackinac Policy Conference, Snyder made his strongest comments yet in opposing House Speaker Kevin Cotter’s proposal to redirect $185 million of the Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s budget to the state’s transportation fund.

“Every time something like that happens, we do lose jobs, investment and opportunity in the state of Michigan,” Snyder said. “Because it does send a message that we’re not being consistent. ... Every time you look like you’re bouncing around or not have a clear direction that you stay true to, you’re creating a disincentive for investment.”

Business leaders attending the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual three-day confab here have been pushing back this week on the House Republican proposal to divert economic development funds to patching potholes.

Snyder joined the fray Thursday, two days after his MEDC chief said his agency would be nearly “out of business” if the cuts are made.

“I don’t think that would be the place resources should be taken for transportation,” Snyder said of the MEDC’s budget for attracting jobs, film production and tourists to the state.

Tourism officials and hoteliers also have been lobbying against Cotter’s plan because it would dedicate the funding source of the Pure Michigan TV campaign to transportation.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, a Republican who hails from Ottawa County along Lake Michigan, said that part of the House Republican road funding package “gives me heartburn.”

“A lot of tourist-supported businesses are saying ‘Please, let’s not diminish it.’ In fact, they would double down on it if they could,” Meekhof said in an interview.

In an interview with The Detroit News, Cotter insisted Thursday that House Republicans would not let the $29 million spent annually on Pure Michigan promotions be harmed.

Cotter said the MEDC could do “some belt tightening” within its budget to pay for the tourism advertising campaign.

House Republicans have not identified a funding source to replace Pure Michigan’s budget, which is supported by $75 million in revenue the state receives from the late 1990s settlement with tobacco companies.

“Nothing that I said, nothing that I insinuated, nothing in the bills required a reduction in that program let alone gutting of the program,” Cotter said while sitting near a window at the Grand Hotel overlooking the Straits of Mackinac.

“As we sit here, looking out at the view, this is Pure Michigan and I have no interest ending what has been a very successful program.”

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The Ford Foundation plans to hold its first board of trustees meeting in Detroit in 67 years next month — a return to the city inspired by the New York-based national foundation’s involvement last year in helping settle Detroit’s bankruptcy.

Ford Foundation President Darren Walker announced the meeting plan at the end of a panel discussion Thursday about the Detroit bankruptcy at the Mackinac Policy Conference.

The Ford Foundation contributed $125 million toward Detroit’s bankruptcy “grand bargain,” a $816 million, 20-year commitment from foundations, private companies and state taxpayers to shore up Detroit’s pensions funds and avert a sale of city-owned art.

—Chad Livengood