Bad sequel: Hollywood Albom meet Ethanol Al (The Michigan View 2.25.11)

Posted by hpayne on February 25, 2011

It gets a 40 cent-per-dollar public subsidy. It was supposed to be the future of Michigan jobs. But it won’t get the headliner treatment Thursday in Livonia. It was all a con.

Big Ethanol meet Big Hollywood.

Last night, celebrities Mitch Albom and Jeff Daniels extolled Big Hollywood as the pig du jour at the taxpayer trough. But close your eyes, imagine them in open-collar leisure suits, and they could just as well be 1970s pitchmen for the ethanol industry “future”— a future dependent on endless corporate welfare.

Ethanol also had plenty of subsidy celebs to sell its cornball politics. Singer Willie Nelson, Al Gore, GM CEO Rick Wagoner, Barack Obama and more. For decades they promised that corn ethanol, like film subsidies, would be America’s future. They produced studies. They held rallies. They denied overwhelming evidence against it. Sound familiar?

Then a funny thing happened on the way to the trough. One of the celebs confessed.

“It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for first-generation ethanol,” Al Gore finally admitted last year. Et tu, Al? The benefits of ethanol are “trivial,” he added, but “it’s hard once such a program is put in place to deal with the lobbies that keep it going.” Big Ethanol’s job promise was a snow job.

Like the film subsidies, ethanol’s claim on the public purse came amidst crisis as liberal Jimmy Carter said it would solve our 1970’s energy problems. Film credits surfaced during Michigan’s recent recession as liberal Jennifer Granholm said they would answer our jobs anxieties. Pro-ethanol studies proved its worth. Jobs! Independence! Nirvana!

“While the rest of the economy slowly recovers, American ethanol production has been an economic success story,” said the Oklahoma Farm Report’s website. “According to an economic analysis from Cardno ENTRIX economist John Urbanchuk, 70,600 Americans are employed directly in the production of ethanol and in industries providing goods and services to ethanol producers.”

Your turn, film lobbyists.

“A just-released Ernst & Young study suggests for every tax dollar spent in the film/TV businesses in Michigan, nearly $6 of business is generated,” writes Albom in the Detroit Film Reports – er – Free Press. “If that’s even remotely accurate, how do you argue against it? The incentives clearly have created thousands of jobs and kept young bright minds from fleeing.”

The studies were bunkum. Like its ethanol predecessor, independent studies of film welfare found budget losses and minimal job impact.

Big Ethanol’s subsidy snowballed through the last 40 years, picking up more dependents despite the critics. Similarly, the film credits are piling up bipartisan support as more studios open in influential political jurisdictions from Detroit (Democrat Mayor Bing supports!) to Pontiac (Republican Brooks Patterson supports!).

The ethanol jobs promise was a mirage. With subsidies came a per gallon consumption mandate. Plants sprouted around the Midwest. The result? VeraSun, one of the largest ethanol makers, went bankrupt. In 2008, the industry asked Congress for a bailout.

Despite Mr., Gore’s mea culpa, the ethanol subsidy remains, costing taxpayers $6 billion a year. Republican Senators Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn are boldly proposing that the ethanol subsidy die.

The film subsidy has been milking the Michigan treasury for three years while promising Michigan false hopes of a new era. Governor Rick Snyder has boldly offered to phase out this boondoggle before it consumes any more of Michigan dollars.

Time to walk out on this ugly sequel.

Leave a Reply