Yesterday I asked you how you might spend $35 million in state funds to better Detroit. The implication being any idea from the general public would have a better impact than subsidizing yet another superhero movie.
Today, let me offer my own alternative to the $35 million corporate welfare check cut for the Batman-Superman film. The film subsidy's benefits are touted as 406 (temporary) new local jobs, increased business opportunities for Michigan vendors, and $5 million in business for the local hotel industry.
I offered two objections to this effort: First, temporary jobs and some extra hotel reservations seem like a very poor return on investment for $35 million from an over-extended public treasury. Second, I question the validity of this kind of “economic development” spending when Michigan fails to adequately provide core public services like well-maintained roads and affordable higher education.
My alternative expenditure addresses both those concerns. It will actually “create” more jobs than the Batman-Superman movie, while also providing a core public service to better Detroit.
First, we spend $22.5 million to hire 450 employees at a cost of $50,000 each, figuring $36,000-ish annual salaries plus benefits. These workers would be a kind of anti-blight SWAT team that moves from neighborhood to neighborhood cleaning up public property. They would mow vacant lots, paint over graffiti, pick up trash along roadways, fix playground equipment, and identify illegal dumping sites for city sanitation workers as well as dangerous buildings for demo crews.
The remaining $12.5 million will be spent with Michigan vendors to purchase necessary equipment for this effort. That means everything from trash bags and work gloves to uniforms (you’re welcome, Carhardt) and lawn mowers to vehicles and equipment trailers.
The money currently allocated for the Batman-Superman movie could fund this program in 2014. To ensure these jobs and this good work continues long-term. Long-term, it would be no great trick just to permanently reallocate $35 million from the state's $50 million film subsidy program.
Granted, this program wouldn’t fill local hotel rooms like an out-of-town movie crew, but I have a solution for that as well. Lansing should instruct the state lottery to use their prize fund to purchase $5 million worth of three-and-four-star Detroit hotel rooms and give them away in lieu of cash prizes.
The economic impact of those prizes would likely be the same as giving away cash—Michigan lottery players are more likely spend $200 or $300 cash prize locally than deposit the cash in offshore tax shelters—but since filling local hotel rooms is apparently a governmental priority, this’ll do it.
So, there you have it, a $35 million state government program that will “create jobs” (44 more than the Batman-Superman film!), generate business opportunities for Michigan vendors, and provide a necessary public service that will improve the quality of life in the state’s largest city.
Clearly, it’s simply too crazy to work.