The Politics of Money: Snyder Talks “Gardening” But Not $1.8 Billion Deficit in State of the State Speech
In his State of the State address, during which the Republican legislators stood and clapped more than they sat and listened, Republican Rick Snyder strutted his stuff. There was talk of “leveraging” this and “replicating” that. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), along with Mary Poppins, are going to provide “seamless” service to businesses looking to locate in Michigan. “Job creation is our number one job,” said Snyder, and the MEDC is going to lead the way back to the light. Legislators stood and clapped wildly. What else could they do? Point out that since 2006 the MEDC’s 21st Century Jobs Fund has spent $150,000,000 million dollars and created 935 actual jobs? Point out that the SmartZones created in communities across the state are skimming tens of millions from school districts yearly in exchange for job creation numbers that simply aren’t worth the money?
The MEDC has been dubbed by analysts as “creating more job announcements than real jobs.” The Wall Street Journal took a long, hard look at the MEDC in this 2009 piece. In a July 2009 New Yorker profile of former U.S. economic advisor Lawrence Summers, during a visit to Michigan to confer with former Governor Jennifer Granholm and her top economic advisor, Ned Staebler, Summers dubbed the MEDC “crony capitalism.” In his State of the State speech, Rick Snyder announced that the MEDC is also going to start “gardening.” Rick Snyder and former Ann Arbor SPARK CEO and new MEDC CEO Mike Finney, are going to bring the rousing job creation “success story” that was Ann Arbor SPARK to Lansing. So, we can expect, like at Ann Arbor SPARK, Mr. Finney will create 35 jobs per year, run into conflict of interest problems, accounting irregularities, and funnel money to his friends, all in exchange for the same grossly out of proportion salary he was over-paid by Snyder and the other Ann Arbor SPARK Board members. I can hardly wait to see Snyder and Finney massage the data together in Lansing just as they did in Ann Arbor so that Snyder, in SPARK’s 2008 Annual Report, as well as on the campaign trail, took credit for creating over 7,000 jobs and took credit for “retaining” many thousands more. That “job creation” claim was a bold-faced lie when Snyder signed SPARK’s 2008 Annual Report, and it’s still a lie that Snyder and Finney are now perpetuating at the expense of Michigan’s failing economy and the tens of thousands of people who are looking to Rick Snyder to be honest about their chances to find a job and live a decent life here in Michigan over the next few years.
Michigan’s new governor and the MEDC are planning to nurture “home grown” businesses. You can help by “buying local.” There was the casual mention of “studies” in his pitch to fund the Pure Michigan marketing campaign to the tune of $25 million dollars. He wants to do away with the 6 percent business tax, and open up the 21st Century Jobs Fund to industries such as “agriculture” and “farming.” That’s the same 21st Century Jobs Fund that an exposé published in May 2010 by the Detroit Free Press revealed had created just about 900 permanent jobs since 2006. That’s the same 21st Century Jobs Fund that has funneled most of its money to start-ups in just one Michigan city, according to the Free Press: Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor’s politicos, showing exactly how an $88,000,000 giveaway in tax dollars from the 21st Century Jobs Fund can impact a local economy, watched population fall, unemployment rise, thousands of educated citizens flee the city, and family income drop by $10,000, according to data from the the U.S. Census Bureau. The 21st Century Jobs Fund is a political and economic smoke screen behind which the state and local politicos have hidden for far too long and at a great expense to our state’s struggling economy.
Our state needs to invest that money in education and our crumbling infrastructure. Excellent schools, sound infrastructure and superior public services attract businesses and encourages job growth, not Reagan-era trickle down, crony capitalism, and voodoo economic schemes.
In his speech, Michigan has a “dashboard” now, where residents can go and view a scorecard that grades the economic, educational and “value for government.” The Reportcard is something new, but much like Third Ward Council member Christopher Taylor’s self-evaluations spammed out to the several hundred person email list gifted to him by former Third Ward Council member Leigh Greden, self-evaluations can be somewhat selective in their outcomes. Naturally, the Reportcard at the end of the Granholm administration looks like something a kid would bring home from reform school. Let’s just say, not shockingly, there’s lots of room for Snyder to improve the mess Democrat Jennifer Granholm left behind.
Here’s what Michigan’s new governor didn’t talk about: the state’s $1.8 billion dollar deficit. He spent 45 minutes yammering on about spending money, cutting taxes, building a new bridge to Canada that wouldn’t put Michigan taxpayers any further into debt. He talked about “leveraging” this and “teamwork” that. He smiled. He waved. He was a nerd enjoying the only slightly mitigated adulation of the popular kids. He was a guy who lives in one of the best school districts in the entire state waxing rhapsodically about the importance of public education—a guy whose kid attends private school, rather than the Ann Arbor Public Schools. Rick Snyder soaked up the love for three quarters of an hour and didn’t say a word about which programs, services and benefits he intends to slash in the budget he intends to hand to the legislators in February 2011.
We have to be “positive,” Snyder chirped. Transformation is going to “take time.” Here’s something I’m positive about: the cuts that Snyder will suggest in the budget he will deliver to the Legislature in February are going to be absolutely draconian. His proposed cuts will hit the middle-class like a sucker punch, and be felt most keenly by those who have the least. He’s going to pound the working class under the guise of “efficiencies” in government, while continuing to funnel money to his political friends through the MEDC. He’s going to manipulate the truth, and like he did at Ann Arbor SPARK, he’ll hide behind numbers and self-evaluations. He’s started with the purported Reportcard that is supposed to portray governmental accountability. In the data Snyder’s administration presented, Michigan’s violent crime rate per 1,000 was listed as “performance improving.” Yes, it is. Four fewer Michigan residents per thousand were the victims of violent crime “previously” than “currently,” whatever the heck “previously” and “currently” actually mean. However, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Statistics, Michigan has a violent crime rate per 1,000 well above the national average, and in fact has one of the highest violent crime rates in the entire Midwest. Between 2008 and 2009 violent crime rates per thousand rose 13 percent in Michigan.
At Ann Arbor SPARK, he created a universe populated by Yes Men (and Women—in 2009 paid 50 cents on the dollar as compared to men employed at SPARK) like Michael Finney. These people were (and still are) absolutely vested in keeping the dirty secret that Ann Arbor SPARK is not a success story. It’s an economic development sham that has bilked local schools and taxpayers out of millions and never had a mechanism or system in place to track and verify actual job creation efforts by the companies that received SPARK’s money and services. In the SPARK led by Rick Snyder and overseen by Mike Finney, work, contracts, grants, loans and support were funneled to the start-ups of political cronies, friends, relatives and people who could be useful, politically, down the road. Is it any wonder Rick Snyder skipped over how he plans to steer the financial future of our state? How he plans to close a $1.8 billion dollar budget deficit? He’s used to the positively glowing and incurious media coverage of local Ann Arbor press outlets. The look-the-other-way coverage was “bought” with a seat on SPARK’s Board of Directors for former Ann Arbor News Publisher and current AnnArbor.com VP, Laurel Champion. It was bought with banner ads on AnnArborChronicle.com, and print ads in the Ann Arbor Observer.
Fortunately, the state’s real media will write about why Michigan’s new Governor neglected share his plan to close the budget gap. Then, one of the reporters will call and try to get Snyder to cough up details. My prediction is that Snyder’s camp will stonewall. Just as he refused to reveal contents of his State of the State speech, he will refuse to have his proposed budget “leaked” to the public prior to February. Had state-wide media got wind of the fact he wasn’t going to speak about the state’s staggering budget deficit, he would have faced a flurry of media scrutiny the likes of which he never encountered while engaging in frottage with the Ann Arbor News and AnnArbor.com as head of Ann Arbor SPARK and while on the campaign trail.
Republican Rick Snyder is gardening while Michigan burns. I’m looking forward to the state-wide media turning up the heat on Snyder, Finney and the MEDC.
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