Michigan City Turns Down Millions of Dollars, Saying Federal Money Is Not Free
Cats lie down with dogs.
Water flows uphill.
A city turns down $8.5 million in federal grant money.
In what could be a new high water mark of anti-Washington sentiment, the city of Troy, Mich., is rejecting a long-planned transportation center whose construction would have been fully financed with federal stimulus money.
The terminal, which would help Troy become a transportation node on an upgraded Detroit-to-Chicago Amtrak line, was hailed by supporters as a way to create jobs and to spur economic development. But federal money is federal money, so with the urging of the new mayor, who helped found the local Tea Party chapter, the City Council cast a 4-to-3 vote this week against granting a crucial contract, sending the project into limbo.
“There’s nothing free about government money,” Mayor Janice Daniels said in an interview. “It’s never free, and it’s crippling our way of life.”
Other Republican officeholders have said “Thanks, but no thanks” to federal money for high-speed rail: Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin rejected an $810 million federal grant to extend passenger rail from Milwaukee to Madison; Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey killed a project to dig a new commuter rail tunnel under the Hudson River. But those actions have generally involved criticism of the underlying logic of the projects, or projections of enormous costs to be borne down the line by state and local governments.
The Troy transit center’s construction, by comparison, required no local contribution, and its predicted annual maintenance cost of $31,000 was, in the context of the city’s $50 million budget, “de minimis,” said Mark Miller, the assistant city manager.
The federal government’s largess is no reason to build the transit center when the national debt stands at $15 trillion, Mayor Daniels said.
Yet if the money does not go to Troy, it will not be used to pay down the national debt; it will be redirected to other projects around the country.
Taking Tea Party reasoning to the local level has outraged supporters of the transit center, which has been in the works for a decade. Michele Hodges, the president of the Troy Chamber of Commerce, which supports the transit project, said that her organization “will be a pit bull for what’s best for this community.”
David A. Kotwicki, a local lawyer, noted that members of Congress might talk tough on spending, but that they still bring projects home to their districts. The vote against the transit center, he said, looks like “cutting off your nose to spite your face.”
Besides, he asked, “What if there’s a grant to provide 10 new police officers?”
Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, a Republican, said through a spokeswoman that he was “disappointed” in the city’s decision and would be “reviewing our options for utilizing the grant, including the potential transfer of the grant to another applicant.” Mr. Snyder had sent a letter to Mayor Daniels before the vote saying that the project would have “significant, positive economic development on your community and the state.”
The transit fight is not Mayor Daniels’s first brush with controversy. Earlier this month, it was revealed that she posted a message to her Facebook page last June, after New York State approved same-sex marriage, stating, “I think I am going to throw away my I Love New York carrying bag now that queers can get married there.” In an interview, she said she regretted the online comment.
The vote on Monday, she said, is about setting an example concerning the national debt. “I want to leave a legacy for our children of managing our responsibilities — not crushing them with debt money.”
On Tuesday, an official of Magna International, a global automotive supplier based in Canada whose American headquarters are in Troy, expressed frustration with the City Council vote in a private e-mail to Ms. Hodges and others that was posted to a blog that favors the transit center.
“I am drafting a memo to all Magna group presidents and our Magna corporate executives strongly recommending that Magna International no longer consider the City of Troy for future site considerations, expansions or new job creation,” wrote Frank W. Ervin III, the company’s manager of government affairs. “I have also recommended that where ever and when ever possible we reduce our footprint and employment level in Troy” in favor of communities that act in the best interests of residents and business and that do “not simply use their public position to advance their own private agenda.”
Mr. Ervin did not respond to requests for comment, but told The Detroit News on Tuesday that the letter reflected his personal opinion and recommendation for the company, but that he had no control over the company’s decision.
Ed Myles, the president of a local manufacturing company, J.E. Myles & Co., said that the area, like the rest of the country, had been hurt by the recessionand that it could use the economic boost that the transit center could provide. He said he worried about what companies like Magna would do. The council’s vote “put the kibosh on any other companies moving here.”
“It’s all politics,” he said. “In the meantime, people are suffering.”