Tyler previews coming attractions in LansingPublished 8:49am Wednesday, March 24, 2010
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
As vice chair of the House Agriculture Committee, Dowagiac’s state Rep. Sharon Tyler defended the distraction of taking time out from making the state budget to eat meat to City Council.
“I did have eggs Benedict with ham, a hamburger with fries, steak, apple pie and my vegetables. I did not do the Meatout,” Tyler, R-Niles, reported Monday night.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm proclaimed Saturday March 20, “Michigan Meatout Day,” coinciding with National Agriculture Day, observed on the first day of spring since 1973.
Granholm encouraged residents to eschew meat for a vegetarian or vegan experience, inflaming a $71.3-billion segment of Michigan’s economy.
The farm sector grew more than five times faster than the state economy in general – 11.9 percent versus 2 percent – between 2006 and 2007.
The governor’s timing “was very inappropriate,” said Tyler, who held an office hour at Caruso’s Saturday morning which First Ward Councilman Junior Oliver attended. “And she should have been dealing with the budget, too.”
Another still-developing story perhaps overshadowed by the Meatout flap involves the embarrassment of Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) awarding a $9.1 million tax credit to a company headed by a convicted embezzler.
As the MEDC saga continues to unfold, answers were scarce Tuesday as House Republican lawmakers pressed for an official explanation in the MEDC “felon fiasco.”
Convicted embezzler and RASCO CEO Richard Short apparently conned the state into awarding a $9.1 million tax credit to a likely fictitious company.
MEDC officials frequently refused to elaborate during the March 23 hearing on how the agency was duped by Short, who listed a mobile home as his official business address on his application for the state credits.
Republicans are critical of the MEDC’s steadfast refusal to acknowledge problems run deeper than simply failing to conduct a criminal background check.
“What’s troubling here is that the MEDC and Gov. Granholm seem to want to downplay the significance of this failure by pointing out that the embezzler did not actually receive any money from the state,”said Rep. Jase Bolger, ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Investigations Committee.
“The root issue is that the Granholm administration was negligent and failed to do even basic due diligence before awarding these tax credits.”
Bolger, of Marshall, pointed out that Short could have used the credibility lent by the MEDC to his alleged company to bilk unsuspecting investors out of millions of dollars.
When asked by Bolger whether the MEDC evaluated claims made in the RASCO application before using those claims to recommend the state award tax credits to the company, MEDC CEO Greg Main responded that there was no independent investigation.
The MEDC also acknowledged that job-creation numbers are often self-reported and not based on any verified criteria.
“Giving a $9.1 million tax credit to a convicted embezzler was a pretty bad mistake, but not taking steps to make the process through which the MEDC and Granholm administration selects companies to receive tax dollars more transparent is unacceptable,” Bolger said.
Tyler, who has more than 30 years experience working in Berrien County economic development, said the breakdown occurred because the Granholm administration rushes to make headlines by announcing job creation numbers before jobs are actually created.
“Yes, we want to encourage economic development in our state, but the state has limited resources and we need to be careful when deciding what investments will give us the most bang for our buck,” Tyler said.
Renewable and Sustainable Companies LLC (RASCO) CEO Richard Short was convicted in 2002 of embezzling from a company for which he previously worked. He was still on parole when awarded the grant. Short has since been arrested for violating terms of his release and is facing criminal charges.
“I’ve been working with Cindy LaGrow,” Dowagiac’s economic development consultant, Tyler said. “I came out in an outburst last week because there’s a prospect here in our area that I would like to see get these incentives that (Granholm) handed out. I sat there and had a little shouting match with MEDC. I said, ‘Before you give out any, bring some down here so we can attract industry into the southwest corner.’ I did another little thing on some incentive tools regarding oversight on prospects that MEDC will review so we will not be embarrassed if we bring a prospect into the southwest corner, that we know they are not charged or a felon on probation. You will see more and more of that this week with the oversight committee on all prospects. You will not have to worry about that if one lands here – and hopefully they do – or an existing company expands that we don’t have that type of embarrassment. And that was a major embarrassment for the state of Michigan,” Tyler said.
Budgets, not burgers, fill her plate upon returning to Lansing.
“My gut,” she told the council, “the worst that could probably happen – and it could totally change, depending on how the federal government sends money – you may be seeing a 10-percent cut in revenue sharing.”
The second-year lawmaker also touched on Race to the Top, which, when the Education Department March 4 announced 15 states and the District of Columbia as finalists for the first round of grants, Michigan was not among them.
“We kind of followed the Senate’s budget plan last year. The House did not propose one. On the Republican side, they did. The governor did not have a budget plan. When we went through the Senate’s budget plan, it was approved through the House and through the Senate. When it came to the governor, she made additional cuts; $165 per-pupil. In the Race to the Top application, we did not make the per-pupil amount. It did not meet the standards of the application. I read in some papers we only worked on it for eight days. I wish. I worked on it for four or five or six months. Maybe the Senate and House bickering back and forth worked on it for eight days.”
As for the budget, “We are $1.6 billion in deficit and we lost 185,000 jobs last year. One thing that’s very positive this year is that for the first time the House and Senate are working together. And that’s the way it should be, and that’s the way Race to the Top should have been.
“As you hear more on the budget, follow me on repsharontyler.com. We’re trying to find reforms, ideas, improvements to the system and ways to save money. Most of the bills I’m working on are very bipartisan. One of the bills I just had approved is feral swine. We have 5,000 in Michigan and they can grow five feet long and 600 pounds.
“There have been three in Cass County,” Tyler said. “One captured and two sighted. They’re a nuisance that destroy crops and carry diseases. We don’t want to be like Florida or Texas, which didn’t deal with it until it was out of control. I hate to say it, but they’re called the ‘just shoot-’em bills.’ They’ll be going through the Senate in the next couple of weeks. If you have a hunting license, a permit to carry concealed weapons or you’re a farmer and it’s on your land, you’ll be able to protect your crops and livestock. This was requested by Farm Bureau and some of my farmers in Cass County.”
“In hard times, we have to look out for each other,” Tyler concluded. “If you don’t like what I’m doing, call me, too. I’m all ears. I’m not going to make everybody happy,” but she’d settle for a majority.
Corn products and fine wine
At the March 18 Board of Commissioners meeting, Chairman Robert Ziliak, R-Milton Township, reported on the Michigan Association of Counties (MAC) Agriculture and Tourism Subcommittee meeting in Lansing he attended the previous day.
“Michigan ranks No. 11 in the country in corn production,” he related. “Michigan’s yield is 145 bushels an acre on average. Michigan has 11,000 corn producers. You think of corn, you think of it being used for ethanol and feed, but other products are being made now – clothing, rugs, tile, disposable plates, packaging material and salt substitute. The list goes on and on. It’s unbelievable.”
The other presenter was from a winery near Traverse City.
“He informed us,” Ziliak said, “that at the present time Michigan is producing a stellar Riesling (white) wine whose quality cannot be matched by California. He said California wines couldn’t come close to Michigan wine.
“We’re in such a unique area. There are just two pockets really where this type of grape can be grown – the peninsula up where he’s at and along the lake in Berrien and Van Buren counties.”
“He’s converting some of his cherry orchards to grape production,” Ziliak reported.
“It costs $20,000 to convert one acre of cherry orchard to grapes, and there’s no revenue for the first four years.”