Talking Points: No. 1

As our chapters and conferences confront major issues, we often create “toolkits” that include sample letters to other constituencies within our institutions (administrators, staff, and especially students), to groups that may be potential allies, to legislators, and to newspapers and other online media sites.

But, beyond those salient issues, there is typically a multitude of issues that present themselves on a weekly, if not a daily, basis and that we might address to the benefit of our faculties, our institutions, and our profession–if we only had the time or, more precisely, if doing so did not consume quite so much time.

One possible solution is to devise ways of sharing not just ideas but succinct expressions of those ideas. As we read opinion pieces, we might get into the habit of taking special note of the effective arguments that their authors present.  Ideally, we might begin to create a store of carefully and cleverly expressed points on which we can draw as needed.

I hope to use a series of posts to this blog to serve this purpose.

I will begin with a recent letter to the editor that appeared in the Detroit Free Press.

In “How Does the GOP Expect the Rest of Us to Achieve the American Dream?,” Robert J. Kostrzewa of Jackson, Michigan, begins: “A few questions to House Speaker Jase Bolger and his fellow state Republicans: What about the majority of residents of Michigan who are not in the ‘cycle of dependency’? How do they make the American Dream possible? How do they overcome the Republican changes to the tax laws that have added an extra tax burden to every middle-class family and retiree in Michigan in order to foster ‘business dependency’ on ever increasing tax breaks and diminishing regulations to increase profits for those businesses?”

Later in the letter, Kostrzewa adds: “Where is the means testing that businesses were supposed to be subjected to in order to verify that their tax breaks were creating new jobs? Mr. Bolger is worried about a few citizens spending meager state dollars on drugs. He should show that same concern for the billions of tax break dollars that businesses received that were spent it on increasing the bottom lines for their owners and executives.”

And he closes: “The only means testing that should be done in Michigan is at the ballot box. If your representative is not working tirelessly and solely for the interests of all the citizens of Michigan, then he or she needs to be voted off the public dole to stop them from using our tax dollars to kowtow to special interest groups.”

In sum, there are a number of effective and transferable points in this op-ed:

(1) Corporations now receive more direct government assistance than the poor and the disadvantaged.

(2) “Privatization” is not producing leaner and more efficient public services. It has, instead, become a euphemism for corporate profiteering at the expense of public institutions, public services, and the public good.

(3) There is typically very little oversight of corporations that have received significant tax breaks ostensibly to preserve or to create jobs. Indeed, too often, those tax breaks seem to provide for increased executive bonuses or increased shareholder dividends and not increased employment–never mind increased compensation or improved benefits for current workers.

(4) Politicians who focus on who should not benefit from government largess should be asked very pointedly who is benefiting from the allocations of tax dollars that they have voted to approve.

(5) Likewise, if politicians repeatedly emphasize the need to lower taxes and your taxes do not seem to be dramatically reduced, it is fair to ask whose taxes are being reduced and how those tax reductions have directly and concretely benefited anyone in your tax bracket or your community, even if it does not seem to have benefited you personally.

This sort of accountability will, of course, be characterized as wrong-headed by politicians who preach accountability for everyone else in order to divert attention from their own lack of accountability.

Plunderbund, a progressive blog on Ohio politics, has recently published a series of posts that provide extensive evidence that Governor Kasich’s privatization of economic development through a new agency called JobsOhio has been a less than rousing success, if not a sham. Companies that have received large incentives to remain in Ohio have simply not followed through on announced plans to expand their facilities or their workforces. In fact, a number of those companies have made major reductions in their workforces in Ohio.

Plunderbund recently provided a timeline of events involving two Ohio companies, American Greetings and Diebold, which have been recipients of major grants from JobsOhio:

“May 2009: Brooklyn, Ohio residents voted to increase the city’s personal income tax by .5%.

“January 2010: Diebold executives, citing the personal income tax, announced to employees that the company was considering relocating to another state or city with lower taxes.

“November, 2010: John Kasich was elected Governor of Ohio. The day after the election, he visited American Greetings to discuss incentive plans. It was literally one of his first acts as Governor-elect.

“February 2011: Governor Kasich had the Republican legislature fast-track legislation to create a massive, fifteen-year long refundable ‘Job Retention Tax Credit.’  The new law allows for the possibility that a company could actually receive more back that it ever paid in taxes.

“March 2011: Governor Kasich signed HB 58 to create the tax credit into law at American Greetings headquarters, where he then boasted that he kept the company in Ohio (even though it was looking at only two sites outside of the state, both in Chicago, an area hardly known for low taxes). American Greetings received an incentive package worth over $90 million.

“April 2011: Governor Kasich announced a $56 Million incentive package for Diebold. He cited the quick deals he made with Diebold and American Greetings as ‘early success’ stories in his administration’s handling of the economy. Two months later, American Greetings gave its CEO an 18% raise while the media started to question whether Diebold was serious about moving out of Ohio or was simply playing the economic incentives game.

“February 2012: American Greetings announced 300 layoffs. At the time we noted how the earlier Diebold deal explicitly permitted that company to keep the incentives even if it reduced its Ohio workforce by no more than 20%. And we warned of American Greetings: “How much do you want to bet this isn’t the only downsizing announcement we’ll hear from American Greetings before it’s all said and done?”

“October 2012: Diebold announced it was scrapping the new corporate headquarters campus, despite receiving a $55 million incentives package from the Kasich administration to construct the facility essentially for free. The obvious, although unconfirmed reason, for Diebold to pass on a free corporate campus was that merely a year after accepting the package, the company had laid off, or was in the process of laying off, so many employees in Ohio that it could not legally keep the incentives any longer. Without the state incentives, the company could no longer justify the cost of its planned, new, very expensive corporate campus.

“November 2012: The very next month, American Greetings announced that it was also scrapping its plan to build the new corporate campus as part of its nearly $100 million incentive package. They announced that the change had to do with the fact that American Greetings executives were more focused on taking the company private. It still didn’t stop JobsOhio from running ads in which the CEO of American Greetings praised Governor Kasich and JobsOhio.

“January 2013: In the face of the collapse of American Greetings and Diebold deals, which Governor Kasich had been touting for two years as his crowning economic achievements, the governor now publicly declared that he would not be duped by companies threatening to leave the State of Ohio–apparently to impress those Ohioans not aware he’d already been duped multiple times.

“Despite the supposed change in focus, JobsOhio continues to report that over 75% of its jobs claims are tied to pledges to retain jobs already in the state.

“Last Week: The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that American Greetings released its annual report showing the company had quietly laid off over 2,000 employees. The layoffs allowed the company to report $47.7 million profit in the fourth quarter, which accounted for 96% of the company’s revenue for the entire year.”

The entire story can be found at: www.plunderbund.com/2013/05/11/another-jobsohio-failure-more-layoffs-at-american-greetings/

I would like to close by emphasizing that JobsOhio has been presented as a “private- enterprise” alternative to publicly funded and publicly managed economic development.

But JobsOhio’s “seed funding” was initially going to come from the sale of the state-operated liquor stores, which have produced about a quarter of a billion dollars of annual profit for the state.

So, a public asset—and a very profitable asset at that—was going to be sold to the highest bidder to fund a “private-enterprise” alternative to the typical economic development office. And no one who proposed or supported this initiative seems to have recognize the contradictions—never mind the deep ironies—inherent in such an arrangement.

We have reached a point at which the alternative to “big government” seems to have been reduced to finding new ways for private interests to profit at the public’s—that is, the ordinary taxpayers’–expense.

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