News Story

Michigan museums and zoos cash in with 2023 state budget

Lawmakers were generous in granting the public’s money to private institutions

The Republicans and Democrats do not always agree on public policy and what they think is the most beneficial for Michiganders. One thing the two parties often seem to agree on, though, is spending taxpayer dollars on projects that are not necessary for the functioning of government. As The Detroit News has reported, they allocated a billion dollars in legislative earmarks for public and private projects across Michigan.

The 2023 budget included lavish pork projects, including $40 million for the arts. The Republican controlled legislature and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also came together to give tens of millions to museums and zoos throughout the state.

Museums and two zoos will be propped up with taxpayer funds through $25.3 million in grants. The lion’s share of the money will go to three museums, totaling $21 million.

Grand Rapids is set to receive $30 million for an amphitheater and another $11 million for the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

The museum received over $6 million in government grants in 2020, according to its most recently available 990 form, which is filed with federal officials. The form does not specify if the money came from federal, state, or local funds. The museum is working on a $70 million expansion, according to WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids.

The Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State was earmarked $1 million from the state budget. It is unclear why the money was designated, and there was no response to a request for comment from the museum.

The Detroit Historical Society Museum will receive $4 million from taxpayers. Its most recently available form 990 form is for 2018. It shows the museum was given $612,500 in government grants. Total compensation and employee benefits totaled $2.2 million. Officials at the museum did not respond to a request for comment.

The Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit was granted $6 million from the current budget. The last 990 form, available from 2019, shows the museum received $2.8 million from government grants.

In a statement, Neil A. Barclay, president and chief executive officer of the Wright Museum, told Michigan Capitol Confidential:

The Charles H. Wright Museum has more than $25 million in deferred maintenance on an aging building, and the funds will be used to make critical capital improvements to ensure the facility can stay operational and not close due to facility issues. The $6 million in funding will help leadership address these needs, while navigating supply chain issues and on-going repair needs. We are seeking additional funding to close the gap.

The Flint Children’s Museum will get $500,000. It did not receive any government grants in 2019, according to the most recent 990 form.

Potter Park Zoo is being awarded $2 million. It is not known what the money will be used for, and the zoo did not respond to a request for comment. Its most recent 990 form is from 2020, and it shows the zoo was given $210,500 in government grants.

The state is awarding $800,000 to Binder Park Zoo. It did not receive government grants in 2019, the most recent year covered by a publicly available 990 form.

Diane Thompson, president and chief executive officer of Binder Park Zoo, says the money will go to a new ropes course and zipline.

Thompson said the project is complete, but the zoo is using the money for an entrance plaza that will allow people to enter the course without having to go into the zoo.

The zoo will also incorporate restrooms in the entrance area. Thompson says the zoo serves the community in a number of ways, including through education programs and recreational activities.

CapCon sent a request for comment to Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, chair of the appropriations committee. It also sent requests to the following member of the committee: Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte; Sen. Jon Bumstead, R-North Muskegon; Sen. Kim LaSata, R-Niles; and Sen. John Bizon, R-Battle Creek. CapCon has not received a response from any of those legislators.

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.