Michigan Democratic lawmakers this week introduced a package of bills that would rename the state’s Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve fund, which doles out taxpayer dollars to new business ventures and business expansions in the state.

If the bill package is passed and signed into law, SOAR will become the Make It in Michigan fund.

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The bills were introduced in both the state Senate and House of Representatives. Senate Bills 559 and 561 were sponsored by Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak. Sen. Mary Cavanagh, D-Redford Twp., sponsored SBs 560 and 562. Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, sponsored SB 569.

“The only economic development strategy the governor has adopted is throwing heaps of taxpayer dollars at large corporations in a last-ditch effort to restore our struggling economy,” Rep. Donni Steele, R-Orion Township, said in a statement. “These policies don’t work. The state injects large corporations with a massive cashflow to make everything seem okay. Communities are promised new jobs, families buying houses, and enrolling more kids in local schools. Just when it all seems like its working, the struggling economic climate catches up, and the layoffs start, leaving broken communities left picking up the pieces.”

SOAR was launched in December 2021 to incentivize expansion of current Michigan businesses and attract new businesses from out of state and internationally.

Over the past two fiscal years, SOAR has distributed $1.7 billion of taxpayer dollars to the state’s Critical Industry Program and Strategic Site Readiness Program, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency.

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The bill package would preserve the CIP and SSRP and add another program, Michigan 360.

“Moving forward, 20% of any offer made to a company as part of an economic development deal must consist of Michigan 360 investments,” McMorrow was quoted in Crain’s Detroit Business. “These are direct investments into a community. It’s not to the company. It’s not to site development. It’s for things like child care, infrastructure needs of a community. It can potentially be used for community colleges.”

Recent SOAR expenditures include $600 million to the General Motors Electric Vehicle Expansion & Lithium Cells Battery Manufacturing; more than $200 million for the Ford BlueOval Battery park in Marshall; $200 million for the Our Next Energy Battery Manufacturing plant in Wayne; more than $100 million for the Gotion, Inc., Battery Manufacturing plant in Mecosta County; and $100 million for Ford Motor Co., Capital Investment.

Steele noted General Motors laid off nearly 1,000 workers at the Lake Orion assembly plant after GM stopped production of the Chevy Bolt EV and Bolt EUV. Both electric vehicles were prone to spontaneously catching fire due to defective batteries. Steele said the Whitmer administration’s policies have been wasteful, singling out the Michigan Economic Development Corporation specifically.

“I was still serving on the township board when GM received MEDC money and promised us all these new jobs,” Steele said. “We secured housing developments, road funding and tax rebates; built parks and walking paths; and did everything possible to get our community ready for all these new workers and the expansion. It was great for a minute. But then cars stopped selling, and GM announced it would start laying people off. We cannot continue with failed policies that give people and communities this false hope. It doesn’t work and leaves communities like mine worse off than we were before the government got involved. Free markets create a healthy economy, not the government.”

Steele also referenced a recent analysis by Bridge Michigan that reported four out of every 10 jobs the Whitmer administration says will be created through taxpayer subsidies will pay below Michigan’s median annual base wage. Bridge also reported that $228 million of the $335 million in taxpayer-funded subsidies for job creation wound up creating jobs paying less than the state’s median income.

“The idea behind the SOAR program was that additional legislative oversight would prevent our tax dollars from being used irresponsibly,” Rep. Andrew Fink, R-Adams Township, told The Midwesterner.

Fink, who is currently campaigning for a seat on the Michigan Supreme Court, continued: “Unfortunately, that approach has not worked, and rebranding SOAR won’t undo bad investments, including money to projects which will ultimately be subject to CCP influence.”

Sen. Republican Leader Aric Nesbitt, R-Porter Township, said the new bills and current Democrat-imposed policies will do nothing to undo the harm the current MEDC and SOAR have wrought on the state’s small businesses.

“Families and small business owners continue to struggle across our state, and Democrats in the Legislature continue to kick them while they’re down,” Nesbitt said in a statement. “Instead of working toward real solutions to grow Michigan’s economy and encourage prosperity, Senate Democrats — after already repealing Right to Work, resurrecting Prevailing Wage, and guaranteeing higher energy costs — have chosen to play a name change game of three-card monte to create even more special tax carve-outs for large corporations right on the heels of raising taxes on small businesses last year.”

Nesbitt continued: “Once again, the Democratic majority is putting big corporations over struggling families — picking winners and losers by handing over millions of Michigan tax dollars to global corporations in secret back-room crony business deals. These tax dollars should be going back into the pockets of the hardworking Michigan taxpayers who actually need economic relief. Instead, we find ourselves taking one more giant step backward toward another Lost Decade of failed Granholm-era economic policies. The people of Michigan cannot afford to repeat history.”