Redistricting commission asks Michigan lawmakers for $1.15M to cover cost of defending maps

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan's Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission asked House lawmakers Tuesday for an additional $1.15 million to cover litigation costs, arguing the Legislature had a constitutional mandate to adequately fund the commission and the maps it approved in December. 

The request prompted criticism by House lawmakers, who questioned the commission's budget planning, its claims of non-partisanship, its decision to spend $50,000 on a documentary about the commission's work and its approval and then reversal of a pay increase for commissioners. 

"Those are the front-facing issues that the public has seen, but certainly the lack of knowing or underestimating the court cases that were going to be involved — that's concerning as well," said Rep. Greg VanWoerkom, the Norton Shores Republican who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government.

Commissioners M.C. Rothhorn, left, and Steven Lett, right, cast a procedural vote at the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission meeting in Lansing on Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021.

The commission's current budget funding lasts through Sept. 30 and, so far, neither Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer nor the GOP-led Legislature has proposed funding the commission in the next fiscal year. The commission completed the majority of its work in December, when it adopted final voting district maps for U.S. House, the state Senate and state House. 

But two of four lawsuits challenging the maps are ongoing, creating the expected budget shortfall, the commission said. And more lawsuits could be filed at any time over the next decade.

The commission maintained the Michigan Constitution requires the Legislature to provide adequate funding to defend the maps, relying on a section of the 2018 constitutional amendment creating the commission that says the "legislature shall provide adequate funding to allow the commission to defend any action regarding an adopted plan."

"We do believe we've been fiscally responsible with regards to that," said Edward Woods, executive director for the commission. "We provided cuts in an open and transparent process. But we also have a responsibility to ask and that's why we are here."

VanWoerkom said the committee will have to explore the appropriateness of additional funding for the commission and if the money should be distributed through a supplemental spending bill or the regular budget process for the next fiscal year.

"I think we've got some of the questions answered but there will be more questions yet," VanWoerkom said.