Editorial: Cut the pork from virus aid

The Detroit News

The panic over the coronavirus seems to be messing with the judgment of lawmakers in both Michigan and Washington, D.C. While our elected officials should be directing aid to fighting the virus and helping Americans through this crisis, they should not use this as an opportunity to go on a massive spending spree.

Any bills related to the pandemic should be “targeted and temporary,” says Heritage Foundation economics expert Paul Winfree.

We agree. 

Yet fast-moving legislation in this state and Congress contains pet projects for lawmakers, and the urgency of fighting the virus means that none of these additional measures are getting the debate they deserve. 

An aid package being considered by Michigan lawmakers contains $1 million for the North American International Auto Show, among other targets that are tangential to COVID-19 relief.

As Rahm Emanuel, former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, famously said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”

Emanuel was referring to the 2008 financial crisis that was rocking the country. He believed that given all the calls for the government to do something, it was an excellent opportunity for the new Obama administration to push through its agenda. And that’s exactly what they did. 

On Thursday, Michigan lawmakers quickly passed $312 million in additional spending, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is likely to sign it. The bill  includes $25 million in state funding and authorizes about $50 million in federal money for Michigan’s response to COVID-19.

More:Legislature considers reforms aimed at coronavirus, including $25M in funding

That’s all fine. 

But the Legislature went astray by including more than 80 unrelated projects, with a price tag of $37 million. Those projects include: renovating bathrooms at a Plymouth events center; an elevator replacement for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra; $1 million for the North American International Auto Show; $2.5 million for a water line replacement in Clare; and $2 million for the Detroit Zoo.

More:Opponents: Michigan spending bill includes $37 million for 'pet projects'

In addition, the bill offers $16 million for the Pure Michigan tourism campaign, among other expenditures that have nothing to do with the outbreak. 

Sen. Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo, got it right when he said: “All of the pet projects should be stripped out of this supplemental budget and should be considered through the normal budget process. Lansing has a spending problem, and this is a perfect example.”

Congress, which has already passed $8 billion in virus aid, is moving quickly with additional  legislation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Trump administration reached a spending agreement on Friday, and President Trump has said he supports it. 

The latest version of the bill would provide free coronavirus testing, 10 days of paid sick leave and three months of family leave, in addition to food assistance for those in need. 

More:Editorial: Limit paid leave to federal workers

This current draft seems pretty focused on the needs at hand, but a previous version called for a permanent implementation of paid leave, regardless of the coronavirus. 

Democrats are going to try to use this crisis to push through their big-government solutions.

In a time of crisis, however, Americans need their lawmakers focused on the problems at hand — not working to score political points with unnecessary spending.