News Story

In $1B spending spree, Michigan lawmakers gave $13M to two unions

Legislative grants allow lawmakers to direct public money to specific projects in a secretive fashion

In June, Michigan enacted a nearly $77 billion budget.

Tucked inside, The Detroit News found, was a $1 billion spending spree, negotiated behind closed doors, and lacking basic details on which lawmakers requested the funds and who would get them.

House Minority Leader Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, summed it up best to the newspaper. The backroom deal-making, he said, was “shady as hell.”

As The News reported:

The list of about 150 projects set to receive “grants” was developed privately by legislators with the Republican caucus and Democratic caucus each getting a portion of the money to divvy up. The final list wasn’t released to the public until the night of the vote, and some legislators weren’t aware of taxpayer money benefiting their own districts until being contacted by The News.

Inside the $1 billion is a $13 million giveaway to two labor unions:

  • $5 million for the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights. As the News reports, “the money will go to expanding ‘awareness around skilled trades opportunities and careers and the ability to engage with industry professionals.’”

There are no specific requirements on how the money must be used.

  • $8 million for the Laborers’ International Union of North America, to "assist with building and retaining a Michigan-based laborer workforce."

That’s the official line. But the fine print allows the union to use the money for a multitude of purposes, including offsetting costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, dating back to March 2020, and to create new training materials.

These are line-item grants, a show of official partiality toward specific groups. How is this possible, in the state that outlawed right-to-work a decade ago and has a Republican-led Legislature?

Because Republicans benefited from the spending spree, too. If most everybody partakes, who can question the process?

A $15 million grant, The News reported, went to “the construction of water systems and utilities to serve a Salem Township housing development planned by the real estate development company of Bobby Schostak, the former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party.”

The sewer system receiving some of the money has been denied construction permits by local officials, a rejection that has yet to be reversed by the courts.

“This is not a Republican or Democrat problem,” Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, told The News. “This is a Lansing problem.”


Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.