Monday, December 12, 2011

Are Livingston Republicans Signing on to 'Picking Winners and Losers'?

I wonder if the Tea Party Republicans know what their elected officials in Livingston County are up to regarding the Ann Arbor SPARK contract.

Livingston County officials seemed to be trying to sneak the $1 million, three-year deal in the backdoor when nobody was looking by holding closed door meetings to have it explained to them. After that was exposed, the deal has been slowed down enough so that people can at least ask a few questions. Not that the answers from the economic development corporation with strong ties to Republican Rick Snyder have been very illuminating.

But the power point presentation made to Livingston County government officials suggests that grants and loans to private businesses are part of the deal. When Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm did it with the film industry, Republicans attacked it as "picking winners and losers."

But it looks like that is some of what Ann Arbor SPARK does. The power point presentation, no longer available on the Livingston Press and Argus website, says that its services for start-up businesses include "microloans" and "pre-seed investments."

In 2010, Ann Arbor SPARK says it awarded "12 pre-seed investments and 30 microloans" to start-ups. Between 2006 and 2010, Ann Arbor Spark reported it made 54 pre-seed investments in 52 companies, at an average of $225,000 per company, and it made 48 microloans to 46 companies, averaging $39,000 per company.

Ann Arbor SPARK's power point presentation didn't explain where that money came from, but since private business is only kicking in $60,000 of the $335,880 a year that Ann Arbor SPARK wants from Livingston County, the question should be asked whether taxpayer funds will be going to private companies or whether there is another source of funds for these "pre-seed investments" and "microloans."

In other words, will Livingston County be picking winners and losers with our tax dollars? Given that Republicans hated that idea so much when Granholm did it, it's pretty remarkable that no Republicans are putting up a fuss over that possibility.

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