Gary Wilson's thoughts on Great Lakes issues and occasionally, other things
While Michigan prepares to dole out big bucks to profitable corporate entities, basic services like reliable electricity and water affordability are low on the priority list, if they're on it at all.
The sorta mission statement of this site focuses on Great Lakes and related issues, plus "other things." Today, a few comments on those other things. Specifically, Michigan and its subsidies for profitable businesses, its infrastructure and the role of government.
In the past month, with a seemingly unlimited trove of cash on hand, the state has proposed doling out billions of dollars to business interests, specifically General Motors and Ford among them.
The purpose? To jump start electric vehicle production in the state. To keep and increase jobs in Michigan. A marginally worthy venture since these companies are profitable and could fund or finance the EV ventures themselves. And an important point, the EV's taxpayer dollars are boosting production of cost in the $50,000 to $100,000 range.
So a wide swath of the public will be shut out of the market based on cost. But that's the market today, pay up or GM and Ford will take their business to a state that will pony up the mega-millions of dollars in start-up money. Capitalism has never pretended to be fair.
While Michigan's largesse toward corporations plays out, the state and its biggest city, Detroit, are experiencing yet another round of power outages. This isn't the summer storm that blows through type of outage that lasts for a few hours or overnight. It's days long and they've been occurring for years. And they're dangerous especially in the summer heat wave season when the most vulnerable aren't able to cool their homes.
Put this on top of the decrepit roads in Michigan that have no funding solution, and a reasonable person might ask, what if we invested the corporate subsidy money in fixing the grid including investing in solar and really fixing the damn roads this time?
Which takes me to the roles of government, writ large. What the heck is the government supposed to do with all that taxpayer money it takes in?
Channeling my many decades ago classes on civics and governance, plus an internet search on the role of government, I came up with the following. Michigan, in this case, should provide leadership, maintain order, provide economic assistance and public services. Yeah, probably a few more but they're the core, the essentials.
The easy ones first -- leadership. That'd be the governor, legislature and a few other entities, check. Maintain order -- state, county and municipal police departments plus the National Guard if necessary, check. Economic assistance -- unemployment benefits and welfare assistance for the needy are examples, check.
Finally, provide public services. The most every day visible are water and sewage services. Clean, safe drinking water plus sanitary and proper disposal of our waste.
This is where Michigan should take a broad view of its role. A view that if any business entity should be subsidized, why not the power companies, even with all their faults and their reliability difficulties. If the state is going to prop up a business, why not one that benefits everyone and provides a public health benefit, not just the few that can afford a $70,000 SUV.
And because I mentioned water as a public service of the government, why not jump start a statewide drinking water affordability plan at the full $100 million amount that experts say is needed. Not the paltry $25 million that is in the governor's budget. Think about the disparity, $25 million for water affordability v. the multiple $100's of millions for auto companies like GM who had a $9.9 billion profit in 2022.
I'm not naive, I get it. There may be times for the government to bail out an industry, like it did with auto under the administration of President Barack Obama in the great recession. It saved the industry and the jobs and families from extreme hardship. It made sense, unlike today's spending spree on corporate support.
Maybe it's time for Michigan's executive and legislative leadership to take a refresher course on the role of government. They seem to have lost their way.
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Chicago-based environmental journalist