Shumlin Impresses In Straw-Man Battle

Note: This is a repost of a piece originally posted a couple days ago. The original had some technical glitches; the easiest way to get rid of them was to start from scratch. 

Looks like the Shumlin administration is seriously worried about the future of the Enterprise Fund. After getting quite a bit of blowback over this month’s $1 million thank-you card to GlobalFoundries, the Governor has come out fighting.

Fighting, need I say, a straw man of his own devising.

On Monday, he batted around his own version of what the Fund’s critics have been saying. And three days later, the administration pushed out a report claiming that the Fund more than pays for itself in additional tax revenues.

We’ll see about that. But let’s go back to Shumlin’s inaccurately-aimed remarks from Monday. From Paul Heintz’ Fair Game column:

… the gov balked at his critics’ concerns, saying that state government “better do everything we can” to keep the Essex Junction plant competitive.

“You know, I got a letter from I don’t know how many legislators saying, ‘Nah, you know, don’t do this. It’s a bad idea. You know, we’ve got budget problems,'” Shumlin told the audience, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “I’m like, ‘Really?'”

Noting the fiscal impact GlobalFoundries’ departure would have on the state, Shumlin said, “You think a million bucks is a budget challenge? You know, get your head out of the sand!”

There’s a few problems here. I mean, aside from the impolitic move of verbally tossing a letter from 50 lawmakers into the dumpster. Yes, 50 — not “I don’t know how many.”

F-I-F-T-Y.

Fifty lawmakers who, per Peter Shumlin, have their heads in the sand. I think that’s in Chapter 12 of “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

(Oh, and the following day he said “if we’re too dumb to partner with [GlobalFoundries], you won’t have this governor joining you.” Nice move, calling fifty lawmakers “dumb.” When, in fact, nobody is saying we shouldn’t partner with GlobalFoundries; we’re just raising questions about the Enterprise Fund and this particular grant.)

In that same paragraph, he boils down the lawmakers’ concerns into one whinge about the budget, when in fact there are several legitimate criticisms of the Enterprise Fund. For instance, an almost complete lack of oversight that leaves the door wide open to abuse.

But the fundamental issue is in the first and third paragraphs. They contain the unstated assumption that, absent the $1 million grant, GlobalFoundries would be hotfooting it for the border without looking back.

Critics of the grant, including yours truly, have noted that that assumption violates the laws of space and time, not to mention common sense.

Perhaps, instead of curtly dismissing legitimate concerns in a way that makes it obvious he thinks he’s smarter than everybody else, he should take a little time and listen. And if he wants to extend the Enterprise Fund, take the criticisms into account and build a better program.

Now, on to the report issued Thursday. A report that, as VTDigger notes, “marks the first time the administration has given the Legislature a bundled report on the various incentive programs Vermont has used over the past several months to offer millions of dollars to the three companies.”

Hm. Let’s see if I’ve got that straight. The administration waits until now, when the Enterprise Fund is up for renewal and under fire, to cobble together a report showing how productive Vermont’s incentive programs are.

And manages to do so in a matter of days. I call that good timing.

The administration estimated that $1.7 million of that $3.6 million total came from the Enterprise Fund, and says the fund has directly led to 248 jobs. The administration said the jobs would bring in $3.5 million in state tax revenue over five years and thus the “investments will more than pay for themselves.”

Yes, well, there’s a familiar problem rearing its ugly head: the assumption that those jobs would not exist without the Enterprise Fund. Which is a highly questionable assumption.

There is little evidence showing that incentive programs like the Enterprise Fund are really that big a factor. There is no evidence to support the administration’s claims that the Fund was the decisive factor.

All this being said, I’m not opposed to extending the Enterprise Fund. I just want it to have the safeguards and oversight measures it currently lacks. If that’s a dealbreaker for Governor Shumlin, if that makes him so mad he has to take it out on his collection of straw men, then I’d say it’s a good thing he’s about to return to the private sector.

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