For the time being at least, Pure Michigan funding remains on ice.
The well-known ad campaign turned economic development brand – known for its 30-second commercials with Tim Allen voiceovers and visuals of the state’s most scenic spots – was one of the programs on the chopping block in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 147 line-item vetoes of the state budget, going from $36 million in funding last fiscal year to $0.
And although the Republican-led legislature and Whitmer agreed to restore some of the funding cuts in a negotiated supplemental this week, Pure Michigan was not included in that list.
Legislative leadership left open the option for another supplemental spending bill in January or February, so it’s still possible Pure Michigan and other programs where vetoed funding wasn’t reinstated could get funding early next year.
But if funding is returned to Pure Michigan, lawmakers suggested it could look different than in years past.
In comments to reporters Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, said he doesn’t want Pure Michigan to go away completely, but said it was his opinion that “those who benefit the most from Pure Michigan should be the ones who primarily fund it.”
“Taxpayers did a great service to the businesses of Michigan that enjoy tourism,” he said. “We came up with a research and development project, a test to see if this would work. Taxpayers funded it, proved that it would work, so it took all of the risk out of that risky investment. And now I believe the industry should own most of it.”
“I’m sure it will come up” in the next rounds of negotiations, Shirkey said.
Justin Winslow, President and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, said this week he trusts Shirkey’s actions on Pure Michigan over his most recent comments, citing the Senate leader’s past votes in support of increasing funding for the program.
“The MRLA will continue to make the case on behalf of Michigan’s hospitality industry,” he said, adding the association remains confident that restoration of Pure Michigan funding is likely early in 2020.
The Michigan Economic Development Corporation had sufficient funding for media buys through the end of 2019. In October, department spokesperson Otie McKinley said future initiatives and funding for vendors and Pure Michigan partnerships would be suspended over several months if a supplemental plan wasn’t agreed to.
Pure Michigan is especially popular up north, where many communities rely heavily on tourism.
“I can speak for my district – it’s been a benefit for Northern Michigan,” House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, said Tuesday. “It’s been something that I think has been incredibly helpful for our state.”
Chatfield said he’s committed to bringing it up in conversations with Whitmer and Shirkey that ensure the Pure Michigan campaign is funded “in a proper and wise way” if restored.
Whitmer’s administration initially recommended a $5 million cut to Pure Michigan for Fiscal Year 2020, which members of the tourism industry criticized as a sizable cut to a successful program. Lawmakers responded with a proposed $1.5 million increase for Pure Michigan, putting the budget at $37.5 million.
Whitmer’s response was to zero out Pure Michigan funding. She told reporters shortly after the cut that she loves the campaign, but felt state leaders “had to write a budget that protected the core functions that we provide: public safety, protecting public health, educating our kids, infrastructure. So I wrote a budget that did those things.”
Supporters of the campaign in the tourism industry were blindsided by the cut and critics of the program say the program has been ineffective, expensive and unfairly favors certain industries over others.
Read more about the Michigan budget: