Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Seattle Times report on jobs program

Reporter Andrew Garber of The Seattle Times has an interesting article concerning $100 million in state spending to create family-wage jobs. Apparently it's not working so well:
In many cases, grants were given to projects that provided no information about job creation. In other instances, local communities seeking aid listed the number of jobs expected, but state officials did not vet the information.

In addition, the criteria used to select projects gave more weight to increasing tax collections than to adding family-wage jobs.
The article is worth a full read. I spend a lot of time writing (complaining) about the press here, and when a reporter dives into a nitty-gritty policy issue and does a good job, he deserves kudos. The piece seemed well-researched and balanced to me.

As for the jobs program itself, Garber has a quote from a Cabela's spokesman that is kind of revealing:
Joe Arterburn, a spokesman for Cabela's, said the company would not build in Lacey without state help.

"We've never built a store anywhere without some kind of incentive," he said, noting that Cabela's will draw other stores, motels and restaurants to the area that would benefit from the road improvements.
It's one of the great mysteries of American politics; corporations are always putting the squeeze on taxpayers, be they developers, agricultural interests, sports franchises or retailers, yet the Republican Party always gets to campaign against taxes. You'd think more people would catch on to the scam.

The thing is that modern, complex economies operating in a global environment may require governments to have policies that help shape those economies to achieve desired results. On the macro level, Republicans pray to the magical, mystical free market, and then come running with their hands out anytime someone says the words "economic development." Which would be fine, as reasonable people can have reasonable discussions about the best use of tax dollars, except for the fact that once we hit 2008 the GOP will start claiming ad nauseum that those spendy-crazy libruls are buying poor people Cadillacs and using tax money to light cigars, or whatever fake outrage they come up with during the campaigns.

In the instance of the jobs program, we appear to be paying corporations to provide low-wage jobs, which one can agree with or not, but we really, really need to stop pretending that things like Cabela's get built because magical mystery free market forces got them built.

Principled conservatives would refuse to shop at Cabela's because it's a subsidized operation. Me, I tend not to get so bothered by such subsidies, because compared to the money we waste on the defense procurement system in the U.S., it's chump change. It would be nicer if the jobs paid more, and the Legislature may indeed wish to change things, but I personally don't mind subsidizing a group of consumers that likely skews conservative. We're all Americans, after all, and nothing says that better than cheap hunting and fishing gear. I've always enjoyed perusing the Cabela's catalog, and my relatives in the Midwest actually point out the Cabela's store every time we visit. (OK, the Midwest can be kind of boring.)

But it certainly sounds like the jobs program, whatever it funds, needs better oversight and accountability.

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