This column originally appeared in the Detroit News.
Does anyone in Lansing care about taxpayers and working families?
Politicians like Gov. Gretchen Whitmer want a massive $2.5 billion tax hike to fix roads and fund other special interests. Democrats want working stiffs to foot the bill with a $0.45 per gallon gas increase.
Now, some Republicans in the Legislature want to hand a blank check to big businesses. They, too, want regular working stiffs to pay.
Let's back up. Presently, Michigan businesses are growing and doing well. Yet there are challenges. Michigan has a severe labor shortage. The state's workforce crisis grows by the day as our economy expands and baby boomers retire.
Experts predict the state needs to fill 545,000 high-paying skilled trades jobs by 2026, while the state’s workforce development agency has identified over 136,000 unfilled jobs right now. Seventy-nine percent of the state's construction contractors say they are facing challenges filling the positions they already have on offer, despite higher salaries, bonuses and more benefits. Michigan manufacturers are reporting massive labor shortages, even while offering bigger paychecks and tuition reimbursements.
What should Lansing do about this talent crisis?
A term-limited state Senator has a plan and tells the press, “We know that we need to bring new jobs and migrate talent into Michigan to fill our talent gap.”
Translation: Let’s make workers pay to create more jobs we can’t fill and see what happens. Never mind that in boom times, it’s businesses that move — they chase the workers, not the converse.
To this end, a new bill was introduced to expand a comically failed tax giveaway to some of the world’s ultra-rich with whom these politicians would like a photo op.
Here’s how the handout scheme works: Businesses and their lobbyists came to Lansing and told politicians how much they want to create a few new jobs — but only if the state would pay them to do it. This happened previously and failed.
Back then, lawmakers wrote a bill — signed by ex-Gov. Rick Snyder — demanding new workers at unique, Lansing-picked, big businesses pay big bucks from their paychecks that they'd typically send the state via the income tax to the wealthy businessmen instead. Workers are forced to pay their bosses tens of millions each year, for the privilege of punching the clock.
The program has already reportedly cost taxpayers more than $57 million, with a price tag of about $42,000 per job. Hardly a bargain. Now, a few Republicans and “big business groups” want to lift the scheme’s spending cap and expand it indefinitely. Apparently, only in government, does it make sense to repeat a proven failure.
It’s all part of a vicious cycle in Lansing that makes everybody happy except for those who pack a lunch working 9-to-5s. Connected folk, though — politicians, lobbyists and big business — get richer.
So, let’s recap: Workers are expected to pay a proposed massive gas tax to fund roads and other special interests. Workers are expected by some politicians to fund tax-dollar photo ops for big business giveaways. When workers are left with no more cash and can’t spend, jobs are cut. Workers pay again — dearly.
How can Michigan attract more workers to fill the nearly three-quarters of a million high paying jobs left unfilled? That’s a serious question to which most politicians seemingly have no serious answer.
Higher taxes and funding crony capitalism won’t fix our damn roads — or the damn talent shortage.
Greg McNeilly is chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund.