A dubious idea, dressed as environmentally friendly, renewable energy policy, is still a dubious idea. But, that’s not stopping Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty from “greenwashing” his failed JOBZ economic development policy, trying to convince Minnesotans that bad policy, if reframed as “green,” isn’t so bad after all.
On Monday, November 10, Governor Pawlenty flew around Minnesota, repeatedly announcing his green energy jobs initiative. He proposed a $3.7 million investment tax credit, economic development package for renewable energy companies. That’s just the first year; the price climbs with time and proposed program expansion.
The hitch? It would be part of JOBZ.
JOBZ, the Job Opportunity Building Zone program, is Governor Pawlenty’s cornerstone economic development policy. Ostensibly, it uses tax credits to induce economic development in Minnesota’s non-metro region. In practice, it moves jobs from one rural area to another like so many deck chairs on the Titanic.
Minnesota 2020’s 2007 report, “Chasing Smokestacks, Stranding Small Businesses,” explores JOBZ’s shortcoming in greater detail. We don’t think it’s working very well.
Neither, does Minnesota’s Legislative Auditor. In a February 2008 report, the OLA noted eight serious major findings. Particularly memorable was the conclusion that “The JOBZ program also has not been targeted to those parts of Greater Minnesota that are economically distressed and most in need of assistance.”
Consequently, it’s difficult to share the Governor’s enthusiasm for using JOBZ to promote green job growth. Contemplating the OLA’s report, I can’t shake the feeling that some fly-by-night, toxic waste dumping outfit will be awarded a green jobs tax credit under this proposal.
None of this seems to bother Pawlenty. At his press conference, he labeled his “green jobs” initiative “the mother lode of tax breaks.” This is a near-perfect extension of the conservative public policy frame. Rather than create policy to achieve desired outcomes that will strengthen Minnesota by growing jobs and supporting an expanding economic activity center, Pawlenty offers another anti-tax/no new taxes diatribe artfully disguised as “green” economic development policy.
Pawlenty doesn’t believe in people acting together to achieve a common goal. In this case, the outcome involves using state policy to incentivize business growth. Rather, Pawlenty continues the anti-tax rant.
Given Pawlenty’s much ballyhooed National Governor’s Association renewable energy initiative, he continues to be a tepid green advocate. Despite his “Securing a Clean Energy Future” NGA Chair’s proposal, when faced with a Midwestern governors’ cap-and-trade carbon plan, Pawlenty -a Midwestern governor- was curiously absent.
Let’s be candid: Governor Pawlenty’s enthusiasm for conservative public policy is much stronger than his support for renewable energy. When push comes to shove, as it will during budget deficit reduction negotiations with the state legislature, he’ll give up his green jobs plan in a heartbeat.
One of the great, truly memorable scenes in 19th century American literature introduces Tom Sawyer. He’s charged with whitewashing his Aunt’s fence but cons other children into doing his work for him. And honestly, isn’t that what Governor Pawlenty is doing with his JOBZ renewable energy incentive proposal?
While Aunt Polly may have been lovingly bemused by Tom’s antics, I don’t feel the same way about Pawlenty’s. In fact, I have the distinct feeling that, in public policy terms, Pawlenty isn’t giving us a green thumbs up so much as he’s distracting us from the real work at hand.