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$76B budget includes about $1B for pork projects spread across Michigan


Lansing — Michigan lawmakers tucked about $1 billion of pork-barrel spending into the state's $76 billion budget Friday for projects ranging from community centers in the hometowns of key lawmakers to funding for Detroit's museums, a Lake Michigan ferry boat and high-dollar local infrastructure projects.

The historic, targeted funding for lawmakers' pet projects is spread across four grant categories in the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity. Several lawmakers celebrated the funding they brought home for community projects in a rash of press releases pushed out after the Legislature's 2 a.m. Friday passage of the spending bills that fund state government operations and K-12 schools.

Rep. Joe Tate, D-Detroit, boasted about funding to help the Detroit Center for Innovation, a cancer institute for Wayne State University, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit and the Detroit Historical Society Museum. 

"It's a huge cultural jewel," he said of the Wright museum.

"You saw these investments that we did have in part because we did have a lot of resources," added Tate, who is the vice chair of the House Appropriations Committee. "But I think what we did was something that really will be beneficial for residents across the state."

The budget bill contained $6 million for the Charles Wright Museum and $4 million for the Detroit Historical Society's museum in Midtown Detroit.

Rep. Thomas Albert, the Lowell Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, on Friday touted key policy areas legislative leaders had pushed for, including payments into struggling pension funds and education funding increases.

When asked about the pork spending, Albert acknowledged some of the outlays were the result of compromise to secure support for those priorities.

"It's divided government, and we had to get the votes," Albert said. "We had to get something to the governor's desk that she would sign."

Republican state House and Senate leaders negotiated the budget deal with their Democratic counterparts and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, whose key legislative allies include Detroit's lawmakers. 

Big winners

The single largest appropriation in the spending spree was $130 million for an electric vehicle teaching, training and development center at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Detroit-based projects also were big winners in the Legislature's spending spree, which was fueled by record budget surpluses from a surge in tax revenue.

The spending bill contained $100 million for a cancer institute project at Wayne State's medical school.

There also is $100 million for the Detroit Center for Innovation, the $250 million UM graduate school and research facility that billionaire real estate developer Stephen Ross plans to construct in the District Detroit west of the Fox Theatre in partnership with the Ilitch family.

The Joe Louis Greenway, a 27.5-mile walking and biking path planned throughout Detroit to connect neighborhoods to the riverfront, is poised to receive $40 million in the new budget. 

That's on top of $60 million the Legislature appropriated in a $4.8 billion infrastructure funding bill in March for the Joe Louis Greenway project, which was initially pegged at costing $200 million.

The budget bill also contained $35 million for unspecified projects on Mackinac Island.

Community funding

Other communities around Michigan benefited from the largess.

The Lansing Downtown Development Authority landed $5 million to help the capital city recover from the long and likely extended absence of the state workforce during the coronavirus pandemic.

The budget allocation will pay for several community and senior centers, including $7 million for a Traverse City senior center, $5 million for a community center in Midland, $2.75 million for a Jackson theater and $7.8 million dedicated to an opportunity center in Monroe. 

Midland is the hometown of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Stamas, a Republican. Jackson is represented by Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake.

Detroit's museums weren't the only cultural institutions to get big cash grants from the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The budget bill also contained $11 million for an unspecified Grand Rapids Public Museum and $30 million for the Grand Rapids outdoor amphitheater.

Parks and rec

Zoos and recreational facilities and organizations across the state also are poised to get a piece of the state's record budget surplus.

The bill contained a $12 million appropriation for the Special Olympics.

There's $2 million for the Traverse City Curling Club to help with the renovation of an old Kmart at the Cherryland Center mall into an ice rink complex for the curling club, said Rep. John Roth, R-Traverse City. The Traverse City club has "exploded" in recent years, Roth said, and the redevelopment of the building will hopefully lead to more development at the largely empty mall. 

"I think this was a good boost to get that project going because its been sitting there empty," Roth said.

Lawmakers also set aside $2 million for Potter Park Zoo in Lansing and about $800,000 for the Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek, according to the budget.

The Taylor North Little League, a Downriver youth baseball league, scored $300,000 in the budget. Taylor North last summer won the Little League World Series, the second time a Michigan team has won the championship. 

Infrastructure improvements

Lawmakers also dedicated money to specific transportation infrastructure projects that are in addition to the Michigan Department of Transportation's $6 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

The biggest outlay in this category was $32 million for work on the ongoing rebuild of Mound Road from 11 Mile to Hall Road. 

The bill includes $14 million for the Beaver Island passenger ferry boat service that takes tourists to the remote Lake Michigan island from Charlevoix.

There's also $20 million for a Holland Township pipeline, $5 million for the Port of Monroe and $1 million for a sea wall in Muskegon.

The Port of Monroe is Michigan's only Lake Erie port and will use the $5 million to leverage federal investment for the location, said Rep. Joe Bellino, R-Monroe, in a statement. 

“The Port of Monroe plays a significant role in Michigan’s economy," Bellino said. This much-needed funding will help Monroe continue to hire skilled employees, while improving and enhancing the port for years to come.”

eleblanc@detroitnews.com