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Shifting regional political power


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"You were no longer giving money away. To get money, you had to have a real good reason. The funding formulas became more equal throughout the state. Money didn't just go to Detroit, Saginaw or Bay City anymore. Detroit simply lost political power, and so did metro Detroit as part of that."

Special taxing ability in Detroit, such as a special tax on utilities, were granted to the city in legislation referring to its population because laws that refer to specific cities require a two-thirds vote in the legislature. While those laws have been updated to reflect the population changes, other funding formulas, such as road funding, is based in part on population alone. Amending those funding formulas or city-specific laws is often difficult, if not impossible.

Former Michigan Governor John Engler, who served from 1991 to 2003, disagrees with the notion that metro Detroit or southeast Michigan has lost its political sway in Lansing.

"Detroit lost influence because of lost population and because of failed government and failed schools, and nobody wanted to live in Detroit anymore, so they moved out. But the metro region of Macomb and Oakland, and the old SEMCOG (Southeast Michigan Council of Governments) going out to Livingston County has done pretty well," Engler said. "I think what matters in the legislature is the quality of the men and women elected, and who is taking on leadership roles."

Recalling past leaders in the legislature, the fact that there hasn't been a governor from the west side of the state in recent years, Engler said there isn't any evidence that the state's political power rests in any specific geographic area, despite the perception that west Michigan areas like Grand Rapids, Holland and other areas in Kent and Ottawa County are steering the state government.

"Some of that perception is because west Michigan has been politically, very active," he said, referring to special interest money coming from the area. "There is a great deal of political activism in west Michigan, and sometimes people look at that and say that's where the power is shifted. That is easily remedied by the people in southeast Michigan, and I would assert that since Ron Weiser came in, there is a balance back."

Weiser, an Ann Arbor native, founded McKinley Associates, a national real estate investment company and is the current chair of the Michigan Republican Party. In 2016, Weiser was elected to the University of Michigan Board of Regents after contributing more than $600,000 into his own campaign. He also contributed $250,000 to the Michigan Republican Party, making him and his family the second largest campaign donors in the state in the 2014-15 election cycle in terms of money spent on elections in the state, according to a recent report by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

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