Opinion: Congress, note Michigan's budgetary restraint

Michael Rieger

Michigan dodged a bullet last week. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wisely vetoed $80 million in spending unrelated to fighting the coronavirus pandemic. It was a budgetary move beautifully in contrast to the historic $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package Congress rushed to pass at the end of March.

To be clear, Whitmer didn’t veto everything in the Michigan spending package. She merely line-item vetoed provisions in Senate Bill 151 like the $16 million for the Pure Michigan advertising campaign and over $36.2 million in grants for individual pet projects.

Remarkably, the Michigan Legislature didn’t fight the governor’s vetoes. In fact, leaders from both parties supported Whitmer’s vetoed spending in a joint statement.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives the Michigan State of the State address at the Capitol in Lansing, along with  Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, left, and Speaker of the Michigan House Lee Chatfield, right.

In a time of danger and economic uncertainty, Whitmer made all the right cuts to several wasteful government programs. Among the most laudable were the “Michigan enhancement grants,” which are grants awarded by the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity toward developing local business and infrastructure. As noted by the Mackinac Center, many of these projects should be funded locally, and they largely exist as a way for state representatives to redirect funds meant to benefit the state as a whole back into their own communities.

Whitmer’s vetoes also reduced the scope of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., which has long existed as an engine of crony capitalism throughout the state.

Most subsidies granted by the MEDC have no effect on the recipient’s behavior and simply skew the market, giving select companies an unfair advantage and ultimately disadvantaging consumers.

The tax money previously earmarked for corporate welfare will be put to much better use fighting the coronavirus outbreak.

Michigan’s responsible reaction to COVID-19 should embarrass Capitol Hill. It’s true that much of the $2 trillion relief package contains desperately needed relief for many Americans who have seen their jobs vanish overnight, but congressional leaders couldn’t help but sneak in unrelated provisions in a must-pass bill.

For instance, they gave a $25 million grant to the Kennedy Center, which has now proceeded to lay off many of its employees anyway. To the National Endowment for the Arts will go $75 million, as well as $75 million to the National Endowment for the Humanities, $75 million to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and $50 million to the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The relief package also gave $88 million to the Peace Corps, ostensibly for the costs of evacuating volunteers that it had already fired two weeks prior. All of this taxpayer money could have gone to Americans in need.

As federal tax revenue plummets and coronavirus spending increases, America’s already massive debt ($23 trillion, in fact) is set to increase dramatically. Tough decisions will be in order for months and even years to come, but cutting corporate welfare shouldn’t be one of them. Whitmer and the Michigan Legislature know future budget resolutions should be free of pork barrel projects, because taxpayers deserve better. 

Washington, D.C., should take notes.

Michael Rieger is a contributor for Young Voices, a nonprofit public relations shop providing pro bono media placement services to young conservative writers.