Commentary

State’s Coronavirus Spending Bill Infected with Irony

Lawmakers shouldn't be giving taxpayer resources to special interests

The Legislature approved, last week, a supplemental spending bill sold to help address the threat of the COVID-19 coronavirus but which came extra spending for favored constituents. Some type of additional appropriations work was likely for fiscal year 2020, but marrying it to a coronavirus response makes the supplemental seem designed to suppress opposition to wasteful spending. This includes “enhancement grants” (see page 11, here) that may leave many taxpayers scratching their heads.

Ironically, several of the expenditures featured in the budget supplemental are designed to bring more people to Michigan and underwrite very large public gatherings, both of which could help spread, not mitigate the new virus. Only eight lawmakers voted against the package.

State spending for the Pure Michigan advertising program would be reinstituted at $16 million for the current fiscal year, at a time when few if any are traveling. It had been reduced to $0 as part of last year’s budget debate. Pure Michigan is the state’s tourism promotion and branding program which — among other things — beckons tourists to come to Michigan and enjoy all that the Great Lake State has to offer. The new appropriation, however, contradicts recent policy decisions.

If Pure Michigan is as effective as the state claims it is, won’t all the visitors who come here because of it increase Michiganders’ exposure to the virus? The United States and other nations have ordered limitations on travel to their countries to mitigate potential problems. Yet it seems if you’re already in the United States, Michigan lawmakers want you to come here. The coronavirus health issue is pervasive enough that the governor has ordered a temporary closure of public schools, restrictions on who can enter health and residential care facilities, in-restaurant dining and even the size of some public gatherings.

It’s hard not to look at the extraordinary efforts being put forth by government to thwart the spread of the coronavirus and view additional Pure Michigan funding as a program that might undermine those efforts.

Pure Michigan is not the only program or project to see a boost in spending thanks to the recent supplemental spending bill. The House Fiscal Agency has published a list of 69-line items set to receive money. One of those is to fund 85 “enhancement grants” (Again, see page 11, here) to fund such things as the North American International Auto Show ($1 million) the Detroit Symphony Orchestra ($500,000) and “Enhanced Security at (the state) Capitol for Large Events” ($500,000). The latter appropriation seems particularly inconsistent or at least ill-timed, being approved around the same time the capitol commission suspended “tours and events” at the capitol building.

The auto show saw more than 774,000 attendees over 16 days for its 2019 show and the DSO brings large crowds together, too. In other words, while the state is ordering limits on gatherings at bars and restaurants and coffees shops and movie theatres, it is also offering subsidies to favored organizations that bring together large numbers of of people.

State lawmakers should be conserving precious taxpayer resources at a time like this, not handing it over to narrow special interests.