News Story

Michigan bills would bring transparency to earmark process

Tie-barred House bills aim to shed light on where taxpayer dollars are going and why

Two bills introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives would bring transparency to the state budget process. House bills 4750 and 4751 were introduced this month by Reps. Tom Kuhn, R-Troy, and Donni Steele, R-Orion.

The bills are tie-barred together. Both bills must pass for either to be enacted into law. H.B. 4750 would require sponsoring legislators to provide written statements regarding legislatively directed spending items. H.B. 4751 specifies what information would have to be included in these statements. It would also require that the statement be public for 48 hours prior to voting. 

“It’s shocking we can sit on a subcommittee and the night before we get a $2 billion to $3 billion budget request with no details and no info, and we cannot find out what these things are about. ” Kuhn told Michigan Capitol Confidential. “It is ridiculous.”

Kuhn voiced frustratation with the secrecy often involved in appropriations, noting that sometimes he’s not given a copy of the bill until right before it comes up for a vote. 

Michigan Capitol Confidential reported in December that the 2023 state budget was filled with secrecy:

Dozens of organizations were awarded tens of millions in taxpayer dollars, with legislators offering no clear parameters for granting the money. And when CapCon asked members of the Senate Appropriations Committee about the process of determining who got grants and for how much, they did not respond.

If Kuhn and Steele’s legislation were to become law, legislation that appropriates taxpayer funds would have to include:

  • The sponsoring legislator’s name
  • The name and location of the intended recipient or the intended location of the project or activity
  • The purpose of the spending and why it is a suitable use for taxpayer funds
  • A certification that immediate family of the sponsor does not have a financial interest in the spending item

No chamber of the Legislature, one of its committees or a subcommittee could approve an appropriation unless the information mentioned above had been publicly available on the internet for at least 48 hours.

One grant that would have been affected by these bills was an allocation of $500,000, which lawmakers gave to the National Association of Yemeni Americans  in the 2023 state budget.

The association’s website is no longer available, and nobody from the group has posted on Facebook since 2021. An email sent to the organization came back as undeliverable.

Members of Michigan’s House and Senate appropriations committees did not respond to requests for comment. 

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.