The Detroit News
May 6, 2023
The latest regional political complaint about special treatment for Detroit is coming from…Detroit?
Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said the 1.2 million residents in Detroit’s suburbs are getting stiffed in the state’s appropriations process compared with Michigan’s largest city where he was born and has made his career in law enforcement and politics.
Evans let his apparently pent-up view of city-suburb unfairness publicly known Friday at a Detroit Regional Chamber event in Southfield with his counterparts in Macomb and Oakland counties.
The third-term Wayne County executive, a Detroit native who resides in Canton Township but recently bought a second home in Detroit, where the county is headquartered, said the suburban share of recent state appropriations “is not even close” to what Detroit has been raking in.
“This is not an anti-Detroit anything,” Evans said. “This is just fundamental fairness.”
The numbers backup Evans’ complaint, though there’s quite a bit of nuance that he didn’t mention.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit-based nonprofits, hospitals and educational institutions cleaned up in the Legislature’s $1 billion spending spree last year, winning a disproportionately larger slice of the pork with nearly 30% of the money earmarked for the city that represents 6.7% of the state’s population.
Detroit got a $290.4 million windfall in the 2023 fiscal year budget that lawmakers passed in the dark of night on June 30. Grants for suburban Wayne County totaled $29.6 million, a Detroit News data analysis shows.
This was with the help of a Republican-controlled Legislature, an outlay that would have seemed next to impossible a decade ago when Detroit was going bankrupt and some suburban politicians were privately grinning.
The main reason Detroit’s total is so large is there were a couple of major projects that juiced its total.
They include $100 million for a new University of Michigan satellite campus in downtown Detroit, $100 million for a new Karmanos Cancer Institute at Wayne State University in Midtown, $20 million for the Detroit Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital and $40 million for the Joe Louis Greenway, a new inner city network of walking and bike paths that will connect many of Detroit’s suburbs.
It seems reasonable to assume that residents across suburban Wayne County may benefit from UM’s planned graduate school or, unfortunately, need cutting-edge cancer treatment one day. Parents from Northville to Woodhaven get medical treatment for their children at DMC Children’s Hospital practically every day of the week.
Suburbanites also might want to bike the Joe Louis Greenway to the riverfront — like they already flock to the city’s east side to pedal the Dequindre Cut through Eastern Market.
Evans, who has long been considered a potential mayoral candidate in Detroit, indicated he was reluctant to air his grievance with the Legislature’s spending choices.
“I really don’t want to do this, but I think I’ve got to,” Evans said before launching into his critique of the state budget process.
The Wayne County executive didn’t say what the suburbs didn’t get in the Legislature’s spending bonanza last summer.
When Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter was asked by moderator Carol Cain how he feels about how the Legislature doles out money, the former mayor of Ferndale replied, “Uh, I’m a happy camper.”
Coulter, a fellow Democrat, wasn’t about to get involved in Evans’ apparent beef with state lawmakers.
Evans wasn’t available after Friday’s event for further comment. His aides wouldn’t say what specific projects they’re trying to get funded right now in Lansing.
But the timing of his remarks can be no coincidence.
Democrats, with their narrow control of the Legislature, are in the thick of budget decision-making season at the Michigan Capitol.
And Evans may have been trying to send a signal to legislative leadership that there are more needs in Wayne County to consider than just Detroit’s.
There are, in fact, some marginal House and Senate districts Downriver that could flip to the Republican column in future elections if the needs of those communities aren’t addressed.
“We have to do some things at the state level to identify and appreciate these other communities, even politically,” Evans said.
Evans’ discontent underscores a governing challenge Democrats face when deciding how to dole out the remaining $7 billion in surplus tax dollars that the Legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer are sitting on.
There will be winners and losers.
And some may end up being sore losers.