Thursday, April 19, 2007

Beating a Dead Horse: "Taxes = Art" Goofballs At It Again

The Ann Arbor News has a story today about a bunch of Ann Arbor "arts advocates" (do you need a degree for that?) who recently went to Lansing to bitch about not getting enough gravy from Daddy Government.

OK, I've made my point about the corrupting influence of politics on artistic endeavors, but the childish, condescending entitlement mentality of the so-called arts advocates continues to rankle me. My apologies in advance for yet another curmudgeonly take on this particular issue, but just listen to this hooey:

Speakers like 26-year-old Newcombe Clark, a real estate professional and arts advocate from Ann Arbor, urged lawmakers to keep a vibrant youth culture in Michigan and create jobs.
In addition to having a name hilariously close to Newbomb Turk, this guy is just silly. Does he really believe that politicians can do things like "keep a vibrant youth culture" and "create jobs"? Yes, it's true that stupid legislation can and does discourage creativity and destroy jobs. Conversely, these things can be encouraged by the repeal of, or the refraining from passing of, stupid legislation. But in no sense is it in the power of politicians to wave their magic wands and create jobs and vibrant cultures, youth or otherwise. Thank God.

Clark fired up the crowd of about 300 people, saying cutting arts money sends a signal that "people like me are no longer viewed as assets...

"In times of starvation, one does not rip crops from the ground simply because you can't afford to water them," Clark said.
People like me? What, real estate folks? Crops? What is he talking about? But wait, there's more:

[An arts funding bill] will go to conference committee, said state Rep. Aldo Vagnozzi, D-Farmington Hills, whose introduction as chairman of the subcommittee overseeing arts funding prompted one rally participant to yell, "Show us the money."
Did I mention the childish, condescending entitlement mentality?

Neeta Delaney, president and CEO of Artserve Michigan, the rally organizer, said legislators need to drop the idea that the arts are an elitist pastime and start restoring arts funding, which is down from $24.7 million in 2002.

"This is not about the frills. It's about the guts of what this state is all about," she said.

Noting that the arts employ 108,000 people in Michigan and pump $2 billion into the economy, she received applause when she called for "new revenue,'' although she didn't use the word "taxes."
Of course she didn't use the word taxes -- that's a bad word. That's why politicians come up with euphemisms for tax-and-spend schemes all the time, nice-sounding words like "investment."

In any case, this is one of those puzzling contradictions you often see from special-interest lobbyists, which Ms. Delaney certainly is. On the one hand, they argue the supreme success of their particular endeavor (to show how worthy it is of government largesse), and on the other they plead poverty (to show how much it needs government largesse). Is it logical that both of these things can be simultaneously true?

All right, look, if "the arts" -– however defined -– really is a $2 billion industry in Michigan, then $24.7 million in grants is an insignificant drop in the bucket: a mere 1.2% of all of that arts business, if I did my simple division right. What's the big deal?

(Conversely, yes, I know the argument that $24.7 million is an even smaller drop in the bucket of a gi-normous state budget, so what's the big deal? In this case, that gi-normous state budget comes out of the hides of every man, woman, and child in this state and is composed of many, many special-interest schemes that nickel-and-dime us to financial death. There are undoubtedly bigger and more satisfying cuts that can be made in the wasteful spending that is the state budget before bothering about some piddling grants to arty groups. But again, this is the example I'm writing about because these pseudo-moral crusades piss me off.)

As director of the Arts Alliance of the Ann Arbor Area, [Tamara] Real organized two busloads of rally participants and many others to travel to Lansing, making Washtenaw County by far the largest contingent.


"When I heard a representative from Google speak as to why they chose to open AdWords in Washtenaw County, not once did I hear them talk about business taxes. They emphasized the quality of the work force, the creative thinkers and the quality of life we can offer," Real concluded.
A few points on this nice sound bite. Google may wisely consider it too unseemly to mention business taxes in its press releases, but you'd better believe the Michigan Economic Development Corp., a state agency that exists for the express purpose of courting companies with tax incentives, is not shy about it:

The MEDC approved a High-Tech Single Business Tax credit valued at more than $38 million over 20 years to win the company's investment.
Also, did the fact that Google co-founder Larry Page is from Michigan and received his undergrad degree from UM play a role in Google's decision to come to Ann Arbor? I don't know, but I'm sure it didn't hurt.

At any rate, the things Ms. Real mentions are important, but let's not be naïve or disingenuous enough to overlook the major role taxes play in business decisions like this.

Eastern Michigan University arts management senior Renee Woods wore one of the bright pink T-shirts donned by many young people staffing the rally. She handed out fliers and purple buttons that read, "Invest in the arts in Michigan."

Looking toward graduation, Woods said, "I will go wherever the possibilities exist. Right now, Michigan is not at the top of that list. But I hope it will be for others down the road."
Can I really add anything to this? "I demand that Michigan's government keep taxing and spending. OK, see you suckers later, I'm moving somewhere else!" Hey, thanks, Renee.

The protestors do have a point about one thing, however. If the state promised art groups $10.1 million this year and the groups spent accordingly, expecting that money, then it is somewhat churlish for the state to come back and now say it isn't going to send the money.

But the lesson again, boys and girls, for the 10,000th time is: You can't and shouldn't count on politics and politicians. Not for art, not for anything.