Mitch Albom, special interest lobbyist ( The Michigan View 10.19.10)

Posted by hpayne on October 19, 2010

In his weekly client newsletter — er, Sunday column — entertainment lobbyist Mitch Albom – er, Detroit Free Press writer Mitch Albom — demonstrates why government programs and tax subsidies are so hard to end.

Albom takes umbrage at GOP gubernatorial candidate Rick Snyder’s unusually specific pledge to end a 42 percent tax subsidy for the movie and television business — a business that Albom, himself a writer of film scripts — admits to lobbying for. “(Snyder) claims they don’t pay off and calls for phasing them out — this during a campaign when candidates are usually evasive,” writes Albom, who — if Snyder were less specific — would undoubtedly write the stock liberal hack’s column taking umbrage at a Republican candidate not being more specific about where he wants to cut government (which is precisely why candidates don’t go into specifics. But I digress. . .).

Lobbyist Albom says that eliminating the tax subsidy “would be bad for Michigan. I was involved in bringing these tax incentives to our state. I helped with their creation, testified before the Legislature, met numerous times with the governor and her staff.” But why stop there? Why not a subsidy for his struggling newspaper? Or fellow struggling book authors? Or. . . .

Albom and his rich Hollywood friends are a classic special interest (Big Hollywood meet Big Oil and Big Ethanol) with a built-in celebrity factor (special interests loooove celebrity salespeople). Lobbyist Albom naturally claims the program has worked. “Within three years, we jumped from less than $2 million in film and TV activity to more than $600 million to date. Name me another business that grows that fast.”

No doubt, the program has worked for scriptwriter Albom who stands to benefit from cheaper film costs thanks to his Michigan neighbors. Indeed, as a Michigan radio personality, his radio program also benefits from the steady flow of celebrities — Richard Gere, the cast of Detroit 1-8-7 — that parachute into the state.

But the hard evidence is that what’s good for Mitch is not necessarily good for Mich.

In a devastating study, the Mackinac Center found that after two years the film subsidies “impact on the overall state economy is too small to measure, (but) its effects on taxes and the budget are significant. The state has authorized $117 million in film credits, and the Department of Treasury estimates that the subsidies will cost $155 million in the upcoming fiscal year.” Ouch.

“Critics of the program — usually people who will never benefit from it — say we’re not making back enough money,” snorts Albom in response. This is an argument? By this logic, if you don’t like the wasteful B1 weapons program, you obviously aren’t a defense contractor who benefitted from it. Don’t like Big Ethanol subsidies? Why, you don’t grow corn?

It’s all about jobs, jobs, jobs, says Albom. “It is terribly hard to measure the ripple effect of a movie or TV show — the hotels, rental cars, restaurants or tangential businesses.” So it makes us feeeeeel good. And by that standard, no subsidy will end. Ever.

“We give tax incentives to all kinds of businesses (more than $3.5 billion to more than 500 companies under Gov. Jennifer Granholm, according AnnArbor.com). Isn’t that partly what our tax money is for? To create jobs, ignite citizens and boost the image of our state?” writes Albom.

No. Private investment — not tax goodies — is what creates jobs. That’s what made Michigan an industrial power. That’s why — despite Granholm’s billions in special interest subsidies these last four years, the state’s unemployment rate — jobs, jobs, jobs — has climbed from 7 percent to 15 percent. Government-subsidized jobs aren’t permanent jobs. They will disappear as soon as another state ups the tax credit ante.

All that’s left for Albom is to huff and puff: “As I often want to say to these angry critics, so what’s your great idea?” It’s the same great idea that this country has had since its founding, Mitch. It’s right there on the Mackinac Center’s website and dozens of others: Create a low-tax, low-regulatory, pro-Right to Work, pro-growth environment and watch the jobs flood in.

It works every time.

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