JACK SPENCER: A debating point we'll probably never see

The following is make-believe and unlikely to occur, but stranger things have happened in election-year politics. For it to take place presumed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer would need to adjust his posture on government using taxpayer dollars in an attempt to spur economic growth. However, because the object of his attack would be a lack of transparency, this might not be too much of a stretch.

Let us pretend it is October of 2014 at the first gubernatorial debate between Schauer and Gov. Rick Snyder. Also, let us say that Schauer trails Snyder in the polls by nine (9) percentage points.

To be fair to Snyder, virtually the same mythical debate could be presented to apply to gubernatorial races in almost every state. In fact, Snyder’s record on corporate welfare is probably better than that of many current governors. That said, any governor, Republican or Democrat, might be vulnerable on this topic were an aggressive opponent to exploit it.

Under our scenario, Schauer quickly takes the debate in the direction he wants it to go. Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm used that tactic against Dick DeVos in the first 2006 gubernatorial debate. Again, this scenario is completely make believe — it is literally putting words in the candidates’ mouths; nonetheless, this is how such an exchange might play out.

Schauer — “Let me bring this up, because I think it’s important. Under Mr. Snyder we’ve continued a program that spends tens of millions in taxpayer dollars but only has a 19 percent success rate. It’s called the 21st Century Jobs Fund and it’s controlled by the state’s corporate welfare agency, the Michigan Economic Development Corps (MEDC).

“Mr. Snyder has cut back on money the 21st Century Jobs Fund receives, but he still wants to give it $100 million annually. He’s doing that even though the State Auditor General reported that only 19 percent of jobs the program said it would create actually came into existence. What’s more, the MEDC told the legislature 75 percent of the program’s projected jobs had been created. We would never have known that it was really 19 percent if it hadn’t been for the Auditor General’s report.”

Snyder — “I’m surprised at what I’m hearing Mr. Schauer saying. He was an active — even outspoken — supporter of the very same program when it was started and operated under former Gov. Granholm.

Schauer — “At that time we didn’t know how abysmal the program’s performance would be. In my opinion, leaders should learn from past mistakes, not continue on with them.”

Snyder — “We have learned from the mistakes made by the former administration. MEDC is more transparent now — we’ve made it more transparent. Also, most of the dollars used for these projects were not collected from the taxpayers, they come from private entities. We need programs like the 21st Century Jobs Fund to compete with other states that offer companies incentives to come in and create jobs.”

Schauer — “Wait a minute Governor; I was in the legislature when both the National Tobacco Settlement was announced and when the deals were struck by which the State gets money from the Native American casinos. If you’re referring to those dollars as private, I beg to differ. In both cases the arrangements were made on behalf of Michigan taxpayers — it is their money.”

Snyder — “Yes, and you were also there when the legislature decided how much of that money would be used as revenue streams for MEDC. Those were decisions made by elected representatives of the taxpayers.”

Schauer — “Those dollars were allocated in good faith, but we’ve discovered that faith was misplaced. It was misplaced because they weren’t being accounted for; and under Mr. Snyder they are still not being accounted for.”

Snyder — “And I’ll say again that we have made MEDC more effective and transparent. The examples of poor performance and a lack of transparency by Michigan’s economic development agencies and programs were from deals and projects advanced under Jennifer Granholm. They are history. I’m not interested in looking in the rear view mirror. That won’t get us where we want to go.”

Schauer — “But many of the projects that were created under Gov. Granholm are continuing with the same companies and developers receiving taxpayer dollars every year. My opponent has been governor nearly four years and we still can’t find out how much each corporation and developer has received and is receiving; the news media can’t get this information, neither can elected officials. I don’t consider that transparency. And what about the programs started over the past three and a half years? It’s the same with them; the people of Michigan can’t get information they have a right to see.”

Snyder — “My opponent knows there are legal barriers to reporting much of that information.”

Schauer — “Wait a minute; these companies and people are getting millions of dollars from the taxpayers; and the people of Michigan have the right to know where that money is going. If those who are receiving the money aren’t willing to help make sure that information comes out, then they shouldn’t be funded.”

“After I’m elected Governor, I’ll have a cost benefit analysis done on all of this. The people of Michigan have the right to know how much of this spending has ended up in the pockets of a relatively small group of developers; how many jobs are actually being created and whether those jobs are lasting jobs or mostly temporary.

“Also, when I’m governor, we’ll make sure that if dollars were wasted on any of these projects, the funds will be returned to the taxpayers. It’s all about accountability; and there can’t be accountability without transparency.”