“Jobs and Kids. Kids and Jobs”: Gov. Snyder Tells WaPo How Mitt Romney Can Flip Michigan
by Rob Smith
In an August 28, 2012 video interview, Michigan’s Republican governor told WaPo interviewer Nia-Malika Henderson that he and Presidential candidate Mitt Romney “have a lot of similarities.” Snyder urged Romney to “get a positive message out there.” Several times during the interview, Snyder talked about “job creation” and “a future for our kids.” He pitched Michigan as “the comeback state.” Michigan, he suggests, is a “great role model” for Washington, D.C., “which is a mess.”
Interestingly, Snyder told the WaPo “government doesn’t create jobs. We create an environment for jobs to flourish.” Someone needs to remind Snyder that the State of Michigan is spending tens of millions of dollars each year on 12 regional “job creation incubators,” such as Ann Arbor SPARK, which was most recently fingered for having spent $7.7 million in Michigan tax dollars in order to create only 79 jobs.
Over the past several years, Ann Arbor SPARK has siphoned millions of dollars away from the public schools through a TIF scam approved by Ann Arbor’s Mayor and City Council. First a financing authority was created (the local LDFA), then the LDFA is funded through tax-increment financing (TIF) similar to the way the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority is supported. A TIF district allows authorities like the LDFA and the DDA to skim the property taxes levied in the TIF district. The local LDFA then contracts with Ann Arbor SPARK for “business development services.”
Looks great on paper. Sounds good at a cocktail party. Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. In practice, the LDFA and Ann Arbor SPARK have done little but rob taxpayers, public schools and the District library of millions of dollars. SPARK’s job creation numbers are suspect because the company has never allowed an outside audit, but rather fills out its own report and hands that over to the LDFA.
Keeping those facts in mind, in August 2011 Daily Beast ranked Michigan #1 on a Hit List of the Best States for Job Growth. The online news mag. pointed out, “With job creation shaping up to be one of the core issues of the 2012 presidential race, Newsweek/Daily Beast finds the boom states for business.” So how did DB evaluate states? “To find the 20 best states in America for job growth we considered three factors. First, a new poll and index from Gallup, which asked more than 100,000 employed people whether their companies are expanding or contracting, and provides an index score from the difference between the two; second, the change in seasonally adjusted unemployment rates, from the annual average for 2010 to the annual average to date, with data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; finally, each state’s 2010 average annual income, also with BLS data. Using z-scores (a measure of each state’s performance relative to the mean), each factor was equally weighted. The first two data sets examine opinions on job creation and raw unemployment numbers, while the third takes into account how well, in general, jobs in each state tend to pay. The result is a ranking of the states where, despite the recession, job growth is actually happening.”
Using these criteria, Michigan came out on top.
In May 2011, the right-leaning Mackinaw Center presented a somewhat different view of the same job creation data. Writer James Hohman linked the job creation numbers with the job loss numbers for an interesting interpretation. He writes:
Most news stories focus on the net job gains or losses because these are good indicators of whether an economy is improving or falling. There is a substantial lag to the release of gross job figures, however, making them less important to the day’s news. The monthly net job reports tend to show a state that is fairly stagnant — rarely adding or losing more than 2 percent of jobs in any year.
But the gross job creation and loss figures show the incredible amount of turnover in Michigan. In a given year, the state can add and lose 1 million jobs in gross, leaving no net gain. This means around one out of every four jobs is created and lost in the state every single year.
The latest release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that there were 216,561 private-sector jobs created in the third quarter of 2010, a gain of 6.8 percent of total jobs, or an increase of one job for every 15 existing jobs. The state also lost 191,483 private-sector jobs, a loss of 6.0 percent of total jobs, or a loss of one job for every 17 existing jobs.
Hohman points out that most of the jobs being created in Michigan are not the result of incubators, such as SPARK, but “from expansions and contractions of existing businesses….The state’s economic development programs are targeted at select industries and specific companies. The key areas of job growth and loss, however, are deep and broad and across industries. Incentive programs that look to assist with hundreds and sometimes thousands of jobs simply cannot keep pace with an economy that turns over hundreds of thousands of jobs every quarter.”
Hohman’s analysis explains why while there is job creation in Michigan and unemployment is down from 14.2 percent to 9.4 percent, childhood poverty is still a huge problem. In January 2012, about 6 months after Daily Beast tagged Michigan the best state for job growth, the HuffPost reported that:
An annual report examining the living conditions for children across Michigan finds high poverty rates satewide, and even bleaker news for kids living in the city of Detroit. The most recent Kids Count in Michigan Data Book shows a 13 percent jump in the number of kids living in poverty in the city between 2005 and 2009. It also finds that more than 80 percent of children in Detroit Public Schools now qualify for free student lunches. Jane Zehnder-Merrell, the study’s project director at the Michigan League for Human Services, told HuffPost children in both Detroit and around the state are suffering the impacts of the long recession. ”The general situation [in Detroit] pretty much mirrors what’s happening in Michigan in terms of trends, [but] the level of economic distress in the city is much more acute than the state as a whole,” Zehnder-Merrell said.”
As of January 2012, 23.5 percent of all Michigan children lived below the official U.S. poverty threshold. The 2012 report from the Annie E. Casey foundation indicated that extreme childhood poverty in Michigan has doubled since 2005, and that Michigan’s childhood poverty rates are among the highest in the nation. In Washtenaw County, where Governor Snyder lives, the percentage of kids who qualified for a free or reduced price school lunch rose from from 10,225 in 2005 to 13,886 in 2010. Unemployed adults rose from 8,795 to 14,782 during the same period, and unemployment rose from 4.2 percent to 8.1 percent.
Basically, Snyder suggested that Mitt Romney focus on jobs and kids, kids and jobs. After all, it’s what Snyder focused on in 2010 when running for governor and won. Political pundits rarely agree on everything, but in discussing the 2012 presidential election there is consensus: if Mitt Romney takes Michigan, he will take the White House. There is one other point of agreement between political observers writing about the 2012 election and that is this: Michigan’s governor will be of little use to Romney as he tries to flip the state. Snyder, a GOP outsider, can offer little in the way of an established political base or machine. In fact, Snyder has his own worries. While he has seen improvement in his poll numbers over the last few months—voters are now almost evenly divided on him with 42 percent approving and 44 percent disapproving—he could find himself with a Democratic legislature to work with next year. Democrats lead the generic legislative ballot in the state by a 45/37 margin, numbers that could translate into them regaining control of the State House.
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