Pork Stories

The problem with pork

Michigan lawmakers grant $1B in earmarks annually

The Grand Rapids Ballet is a well-funded nonprofit that opened its doors in 1971. The Detroit-Windsor Dance Academy was founded in the 1980s by award-winning choreographer Debra White-Hunt. What is the difference between the two dance companies? The ballet received $1.8 million from the state, and the Detroit academy did not. According to Bridge Detroit, the academy was forced to close because White-Hunt could not afford to run it full-time.

Why was one ballet awarded state money and the other not considered? Likely because one legislator requested money for a constituent, and another did not. That is the problem with pork. One of the problems, anyway.

The 2024 state budget included a record-breaking $1 billion in pork projects. Should legislators be given the power to allocate funds to an organization in their districts, without having to go through legislative procedures to ensure taxpayer money is being spent properly?

James Hohman, budget director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, says no.

“It’s never about ballet, or cricket, or whatever pork project gets selected. It’s inappropriate for legislators to tax everyone to direct money to their district. Legislators should be focused on the public’s benefit, not redistributing cash to their area,” Hohman told Michigan Capitol Confidential.

CapCon has consistently highlighted the issue. But some social media users take offense at our reporting on the matter, arguing that this cricket field or that museum is a worthy use of taxpayer funds.

Some state residents are not aware of how their government allocates tax dollars. There is no process for awarding these earmarks, other than a legislator’s request on behalf of one of his or her constituents. This results in a lack of transparency and accountability, and it can create an unfair advantage for some businesses over their competitors.

Curling enthusiasts in Traverse City were given $2 million from the 2023 state budget to create a new facility. There is already a comparable privately owned curling facility near the new development. Yet taxpayer money gives the new curling facility a $2 million financial boost over its competitor.

It is time for the Legislature to be honest about its pork problem. Current leaders in Lansing vowed more government transparency, and they have yet to fulfill that promise. There should be a vetting process in legislative committees to determine if there is a need and public benefit when taxpayer money is requested for a private sector entity.

Earmarks are political favors, given with taxpayer dollars, with no strings attached. They often create an unfair advantage for one firm or nonprofit against competitors that are not as politically connected. Pork is wrong because pork is favoritism, regardless of how noble the project may be.

Contact your state senator or representative if you want to see pork favoritism end.

Jamie A. Hope is assistant managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Email her at hope@mackinac.org.

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.