Finley: Dems go big for free stuff

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Mackinac Island -- During the Depression a hobo-inspired song called "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" became popular, extolling the virtues of free stuff. A sampling of the lyrics:

“In The Big Rock Candy Mountains/There’s a land that’s fair and bright/Where the handouts grow on bushes/And you sleep out every night/Where the boxcars all are empty/And the sun shines every day/On the birds and bees/and the cigarette trees/ The lemonade springs/Where the bluebirds sing/in the Big Rock Candy Mountains.”

Gretchen Whitmer campaigns for the Democratic nomination for Governor during a stop at Kellog Conference Center in East Lansing with the Michigan Association of Governmental Employees on Saturday, May 19, 2018.  (Dale G.Young/Detroit News) 2018.

The Michigan Democratic Party should buy the rights to the tune and turn it into its theme song.

The three leading Democratic contenders for governor were already whistling the melody when they arrived on the island bearing blueprints for building Michigan into such a socialist utopia. Fitting, I guess, since Mackinac Island runs on fudge.

And manure.

Former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer is going full Bernie at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual policy conference here. She brought to the business-oriented gathering a plan to derail much of the pro-growth strategies of the Snyder years and replace them with cigarette trees and lemonade springs.

The so-called Better Skills, Better Jobs Plan for Michigan starts with what has become the prerequisite salute for every Democratic candidate in this election cycle: A $15 minimum wage. $15-an-hour whether you work in Detroit or Menominee, and regardless of whether your efforts produce 15 bucks of hourly value for your employer.

Whitmer, the supposed moderate in the Democratic primary race, is also promising two free years of college for every Michigan high school graduate. This signature Sanders plank might lure more young people into skills training programs and the pursuit of four-year degrees. Or it might turn our colleges into more expensive versions of Michigan’s dismal high schools, where most everybody attends, but only about 25 percent obtain the knowledge they need to succeed.

Other elements of her plan include a generous paid family leave policy “to promote a healthy workplace” and assure that employers are very careful not to hire those workers who are most likely to take a leave.

And she’d repeal Michigan’s right-to-work law, which has removed the fear potential employers had of moving to Michigan and losing control of their business to a union.

Whitmer says her plan will remedy the inequity of a Michigan economic comeback that excludes a lot of small business owners, the working class, women and people of color.

It does no such thing. But it wouldn’t be a progressive plank if it didn’t pander to identity politics.

Coming hard behind Whitmer is Shri Thanedar, who hopes to mimic Rick Snyder’s success in moving from the executive suite to the governor’s office, only by vowing not to bring sound business principles to government. Thanedar is adding free universal child care and pre-kindergarten to the confectionery heap.

His campaign may be struggling to catch up with the two front-runners, but don’t expect Abdul El-Sayed to offer up a contrast for Democratic voters who aren’t asking for cradle-to-grave government goodies.

The former Detroit health department director wants to offer us single-payer health insurance, I guess because Obamacare has worked out so well.

Now all these sweets aren’t really free. Somebody has to pay for them. Who? Thanedar speaks for the group: “By taxing corporations and millionaires.”

Well, of course. Those high income earners and big employers who avoided Michigan during its Lost Decade would never think about leaving and taking their jobs and dollars with them to Texas, Florida, Tennessee or another tax friendly state.

FILE - In this June 8, 2017 file photo, Shri Thanedar, a scientist and entrepreneur who has experienced big highs and lows in business, announces his candidacy for Michigan governor during a news conference in Detroit. Second-term Gov. Rick Snyder's impending departure under term limits has led four Republicans and three Democrats into a battle to follow him. The Democratic side features former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer and two candidates who have never held elective office: businessman Shri Thanedar and ex-Detroit health director Abdul El-Sayed. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

This will be the Big Rock Candy Mountain, where “There’s lots of stew/And Whiskey too “ and the failed policies of the past are now just the ticket to prosperity.

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