Government in the United States is supposed to be of, by and for the people. But Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is a politician who is of, by and for the corporate elite.
A bean counter by background, Snyder became a member of the corporate elite as a top executive at computer maker Gateway Inc. in the 1990s, where he rose to become president and chief operating officer as the company rode the dot-com boom. Having gotten rich, Snyder left full-time work at Gateway in 1997 to become a venture capitalist, while remaining on Gateway’s board of directors. The dot-com boom went bust in 2000, and Gateway went rapidly downhill, with massive layoffs and jobs shipped to China. Snyder became non-executive board chairman in 2005, and then interim CEO in 2006, where he moved some operations back to the U.S. but failed to turn the company around before it was sold to Acer, Inc. in 2007.
Meanwhile, Snyder has had a mixed record as a venture capitalist, backing some winners and some losers, demonstrating that he’s just a lucky corporate mediocrity.
As governor, Snyder has maintained his corporate elite loyalty. He has paid back all but $1 of his $159,300 annual salary because he collects more than $1 million a year in investment income. Snyder has never moved into the governor’s mansion, preferring to stay in his own mansion near Ann Arbor, with state troopers chauffeuring him to Lansing.
Snyder’s election in 2010 was certainly by the corporate elite, with his campaign almost entirely bankrolled by business interests, as is the case with most Republican politicians.
Now that he has been in office for two years, Snyder has made it clear that he works for the selfish corporate elite, waging class warfare in the process. This can be seen in his tax policy.
Before Snyder took office, state and local taxation was already regressive, with people earning less than $15,000 a year paying a 9 percent effective rate, compared to 5.6 percent for those with incomes above $365,000. Snyder has made it even worse by cutting business taxes by 83 percent, a $1.6 billion reduction, while raising taxes on individuals by 23 percent, a $1.4 billion increase. Hardest hit were the elderly, with pensions newly taxed, and the poor, experiencing a big cut in the earned income tax credit. The homestead property tax credit was also reduced.
Topping off Snyder’s class warfare agenda was ramming through freeloading off unions, dishonestly called “right-to-work,” without committee hearings or public debate during a lame duck session of the Legislature.
With his corporate elite perspective, Snyder wants to put Michigan among the top 10 states for “business climate,” according to the right wing Tax Foundation. Its ranking criteria is based on tax burden, primarily for business, preferring low tax rates that enable selfish members of the corporate elite to keep as much money for themselves as possible. Since six of the top 10 states on this list also allow freeloading off unions, this also means paying employees as little as possible.
But if we look at the top 10 states in per capita income, only three make the “business climate” top 10 list, and none of them allow freeloading off unions. Three other states ranking among the top 10 in per capita income are in the bottom 10 for “business climate.” Perhaps the worst state of all is Nevada, which ranks third in “business climate,” allows freeloading off unions and has the nation’s highest unemployment rate.
Studies have found that employers are most attracted to a state by the availability of a skilled workforce, and talented people are most attracted by a good quality of life. But the short-sighted Snyder has cut investments in K-12 and higher education, which trains the talent; local government, which provides public services to maintain the quality of life; and infrastructure, which creates the framework for getting business done. He has also alienated talented and culturally liberal young people by signing into law abortion restrictions and discrimination against gay people.
Snyder’s narrow-minded views were graphically expressed last week in a full-page, $144,000 ad by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC), a public-private partnership funded by the Legislature, in the Wall Street Journal, the corporate elite’s favorite newspaper. The ad touted the divisive freeloading off unions law as an example of “what happens when Michigan makes history.”
MEDC President and CEO Mike Finney, a Snyder appointee, described the ad as “a very targeted message about the positive business climate,” in an attempt to draw more investment into the state. But the most offensive part of the ad was its using the logo of Pure Michigan, initially a positive, popular and politically neutral ad campaign aimed at boosting tourism.
While Snyder had previously used Pure Michigan for business boosterism, divisive issues had been avoided. In politicizing Pure Michigan, Snyder appears clueless that he has destroyed one of the most successful state branding campaigns. But it may not matter to him when he wants to reinvent Michigan as a Third World state, where the corporate elite can live high off the hog while the rest of us suffer in poverty.