The 2006 elections are still more than six months away, yet already we’re seeing campaign ads. My favorite features likely Republican gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos and his veiled criticism of Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s unwillingness to drop the single business tax (often incorrectly labeled the small business tax) – without a means to make up lost revenue.

Angela Cesere

It opens with DeVos driving in his car, occasionally peering out the passenger and driver-side windows, looking dismayed – as if the scenery is indicative of something awful in Michigan.

The next shot has him in a round table discussion with a small group of mostly white males, all of whom complain about how hard it is to start a business in Michigan – what with so many taxes and all. DeVos explains that he wants to create more jobs in the state, and to do that, he needs to make Michigan a better environment for business development. While he doesn’t say how, if you read his statements in the newspapers, it’s pretty clear what DeVos wants to do.

I won’t delve into the specifics about the SBT because, frankly, I don’t know much about it. What I do know is that DeVos’s theory about creating jobs in Michigan by cutting taxes simply doesn’t work. Over the past 16 years, Michigan has cut taxes across the board. As a result, the state now has a lower tax burden than at least 30 other states.

Yet jobs have not been created here. According to DeVos’s theory, states where the tax burden is the lowest – such as Alabama and Mississippi – should be some of the best places to create jobs, whereas states where the tax burden is the highest – such as New York – should be the worst. But, in reality, the states with the lowest amount of taxes per-capita are also among the poorest and have some of the worst job development to match.

DeVos babbling on about wanting to create jobs in Michigan is akin to Pablo Escobar, the infamous Colombian drug lord, telling kids not to smoke crack. DeVos, for those who don’t know, is the son of billionaire Richard DeVos Sr., the founder of Amway, a multi-level marketing firm. During his tenure as the head of that company, DeVos Jr. laid off 1,400 workers in 1998 and 2000. At the same time, he invested hundreds of millions of dollars into the construction of manufacturing plants in China. So you could say he created many new jobs . . . in China.

Coupled with his recent criticism of Granholm’s minimum-wage increase, it’s clear what DeVos thinks creates jobs in Michigan: businesses where workers make three cents an hour and pay virtually no taxes. If that’s what you’re looking for, then Dick, I wish you the best of luck. You have a better chance finding Jimmy Hoffa than you do finding workers to work for less than minimum wage – and certainly not in Michigan, the birthplace of the United Auto Workers.

But DeVos should know better because his hometown, Grand Rapids, is a good example of what makes a city prosper. The city was on a decline until after 1990, when, under the direction of a group which included DeVos, it turned itself around and eventually joined Ann Arbor as one of only two cities in Michigan to have a net increase in population. And it didn’t do it through tax cuts, either. Grand Rapids, in addition to continuing its own growth, has voted to increase taxes twice since that time.

Considering that both DeVos and his wife, Betsy – former chairperson of the Michigan Republican Party – are close friends of President Bush’s campaign advisor Karl Rove, and that she may have worked with Rove on election strategies, there should be a sense of caution when listening to her husband’s campaign ads. If this report turns out to be true, I wouldn’t be surprised to see new campaign ads likening Granholm to Osama Bin Laden, with messages like, “Granholm wants more taxes; Bin Laden wants to kill you. Jennifer and Osama both hate your freedom.”

I’m not endorsing Jennifer Granholm (yet), and she certainly hasn’t been the greatest governor Michigan has ever had. She did cut funding to the state’s public universities, resulting in more than $1,000 increases in tuition at the University alone. She’s not perfect and she’s had to deal with budget shortfalls from the federal government, jobs emigrating from the state and a whole load of other inherited problems.

But to believe DeVos is the next best thing – or possibly better – is a joke.

Goldberg can be reached at jaredgo@umich.edu.

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