‘No Way To Cut State Budget’ — Not Even These Items?
Michigan budget director draws a line
In August, state budget director Chris Kolb wrote an op-ed in The Detroit News about Michigan’s finances. In it, he stated, “I have reviewed every dollar in the state budget, but the fact of the matter is there’s simply no way to cut the budget in fiscal year 2021 without impacting essential services at a time when our residents need them the most.”
Versions of this claim are heard nearly every year, but there’s an ironic twist this year. In September, with little public discussion and using a process that offered no transparency, Michigan’s governor and Legislature adopted in rapid fashion a record $61.565 billion state budget (up from $57.784 billion in 2018-19 before the COVID-19 pandemic).
Among the spending authorized is a one-time spending section of the Department of Labor and Economic Growth’s budget. In it, lawmakers included allocations that uniquely benefit one project or community, for which a supermajority vote is required. But legislators have ways to avoid that requirement.
The usual way is to use bill language that doesn’t name who or what is getting the money. Instead, the bill identifies a type of project in a particular geographic area, identified only by size or population.
For example, the North Flint Food Market received a $506,800 state grant.
It was described in the spending bill this way: “From the funds appropriated in part 1 for Michigan enhancement grants, $506,800.00 shall be awarded to a city with a population greater than 100,000 located in a county with a population between 400,000 and 500,000 according to the most recent federal decennial census. The funds awarded shall be used to support a cooperative grocery store to expand access to food within a food desert.”
The bill did not define “food desert.”
Here are some examples of spending items whose loss would not appear to affect essential social services:
— $1.0 million to the Sloan Museum in Flint. The Sloan Museum focuses on Flint and Genesee County history, including the automobile industry.
Actual bill language: “From the funds appropriated in part 1 for Michigan enhancement grants, $1,000,000.00 shall be awarded to a public museum in a county with a population between 400,000 and 450,000 and in a city with a population over 100,000 according to the most recent federal decennial census.”
— $220,000 to the Michigan Center for Civic Education, a Lansing nonprofit that contracts for civics and social studies programs.
Actual bill language: “From the funds appropriated in part 1 for Michigan enhancement grants, $220,000.00 shall be awarded to a nonpartisan, not-for-profit civic education organization located in a county with a population of between 280,800 and 281,000 and in a city with a population greater than 80,000 according to the most recent federal decennial census.”
— $85,000 for renovation of the Governor Warner Museum in Farmington, which holds artifacts of Warner, who was a Michigan governor in the early 20th century.
Actual bill language: “From the funds appropriated in part 1 for Michigan enhancement grants, $85,000.00 shall be awarded for renovations at a historic mansion in a county with a population of between 1,200,000 and 1,203,000 and in a city with a population of between 10,300 and 10,400 according to the most recent federal decennial census.”
The spending also gave millions more to other nonprofits.
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.