Massive SOAR 2.0 fund proposal taking center stage at the Capitol


If you’ll excuse the pun, the question “soaring” over the state Capitol these days is a pot of money called the SOAR Fund that the governor’s administration uses to grease the wheels for big economic projects.

General Motors’ planned Blue Oval Project is getting some love from this Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve Fund. So is the planned Gotion advanced EV battery plant up in Big Rapids, as is Ford, and the Hemlock semiconductor.

They’ve all benefited from more than $2 billion in taxpayer money, and it’s supposed to be ending. With the next budget, the last $500 million is supposed to be spent ... but will it be?

The Governor's Office and House Speaker Joe Tate, D-Detroit, are working behind the scenes to marshal support in the House for a new 10-year, $6 billion SOAR revamp that dedicates annual allotments for transit, housing and local “placemaking.”

Among the package's main supporters are General Motors and billionaire developer Dan Gilbert of Rock Ventures LLC. General Motors is moving its headquarters out of Detroit’s landmark building, the Renaissance Center, into some rental property.

They envision tapping into what is referred to behind the scenes as “SOAR 2.0” to create a transformational multi-use property that becomes Detroit’s centerpiece. There would be some housing, and a high-speed bus stop nearby. There are some plans, but not a lot of people have seen them.

What folks like Gov. Gretchen Whitmer see is a future for the RenCen that doesn’t include Detroit’s most iconic structure turning to blight or getting torn down entirely. She also sees a future deep-pocketed ally in Gilbert as she maneuvers into the national spotlight.

Ideally, advocates had hoped to see SOAR 2.0 passing through the House Tuesday, but most Republicans and a handful of Democrats are gumming things up.

Outside of the philosophical issues some lawmakers have about writing checks on specific businesses, there’s some leeriness about the numbers.

Michigan has been blessed post-COVID with a ton of federal money. It’s made balancing the state budget and its many wish-list items relatively painless.

That money is all but gone. What remains is set aside for infrastructure or something specific. Do state lawmakers want to commit to $6 billion over the next 10 years?

To lock in a future administration and five future sessions of the Legislature with $600 million each year for a decade is asking a lot.

Ten years is a long time. That’s the rest of Whitmer’s term and the entirety of the next governor’s term, presuming that person is elected and then reelected.

School groups came out against the idea practically in unison because they have plans for what they’d like to do with that kind of money. Hint: They are not helping business, creating affordable housing, developing new mass transit or doing placemaking.

The education community fears what other interest groups (who don’t benefit from this plan) fear. Prioritizing a grandiose vision with future bucks may sentence the state to flat budgets or potential cuts for the next 10 years.

Everything is moving fast on the idea at the Capitol because ... well ... that’s how some big things get done.

Tie up a huge package with the budget. Put an immediate deadline on it. Create some panic. Violá!

This one is proving to be a tough sell, though.

In the House, in particular, Republicans and Democrats don’t trust each other. Bottom line: It’s been painful to watch even mundane bills struggle to pass in 2024.

Democrats feel as if Republican Leader Matt Hall is trying to pull the rug out from under them. Hall feels Democrats aren’t serious about getting his input, so he asks for pie-in-the-sky collateral for his caucus’ votes.

They all blame each other for stuff not passing.

The whole spectacle is frustrating to watch.

Meanwhile, there are some Democrats who walked the plank on these SOAR Fund projects who don’t want to do it again. Besides, what’s in it for them?

I’m not saying it can’t be done. It all smells like a lame duck project to me, but sometimes projects that are too big to fail, do.

(Email Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS at


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