Monday, June 18, 2007

Pawlenty dreams but Minnesotans fear nightmares

Last week, Governor Tim Pawlenty was in the southern Minnesota town of Janesville to participate in “cornbreaking event to mark the beginning of construction on the state’s largest ethanol plant. The plant, being built by US BioEnergy is a half-mile east of the town, will turn area corn into 100 million gallons of ethanol annually, as well as producing 320,000 tons of distillers grains. It will employ 40 people.

Somehow as I read The Free Press story, my mind wandered to the book Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella which many of you may know due to the Kevin Costner's film, Field of Dreams.
The tagline "If you build it, he will come" haunts the main character, Ray Kinsella -- an Iowa farmer who visualizes a ball field in the middle of his field of corn. Digging up his corn to build a ballpark will inspire the return of baseball legend Shoeless Joe Jackson, a man whose reputation was forever tarnished by the scandalous 1919 World Series.
A review of the book relates that baseball is a metaphor, a way to talk about things like innocence, belief and, perhaps above all, America. Shoeless Joe is a parable about one of the most fundamental of American ideals, beginning anew. Ray Kinsella, by plowing up a large section of his farmland, is both building and rebuilding, creating what had never been there and re-creating what had come before. The land was once a place where the sins of the old could be expunged and a new vision realized, and this kind of renewal is what Kinsella's quixotic creation brings about.

So now we come to Minnesota’s Governor … a natural-born cheerleader for business. Optimism is his mantra … not realism. Naturally, every Governor would be happy with a new business that will create jobs … and jobs that cannot be ever outsourced overseas. The news that there may be an oversupply in ethanol production this year was quickly dismissed. The Associated Press reported Lehman Brothers analysts estimated the surplus at about 1 million gallons per day starting in the second half of 2007. The firm's report attributed part of that to the ethanol plant construction boom, but said transportation bottlenecks are a bigger problem."
Now the Governor may be able to claim that Minnesota will be a top producer … but what about the transporation issues?
"If you build it, they will come."
As Leigh Pomeroy reported on Minnesota Monitor county and township roads aren't built to handle the heavy truck traffic going to and from ethanol and biodiesel plants."
Once again, we are back to the Governor’s failure to invest in roads. So those of us in southern Minnesota who have complained of Highway 14 for decades, and now finally have a least a good stretch of road in the Janesville area, will see that road deteriorate faster as well as the county roads that feed into Hwy14.

But the Governor loves ethanol and all its federal grants that are available and tax subsidies.
Did you know that Minnesota leads the country in USDA grants received ? The Free Press reported : “ The state has received $18 million in Rural Development Renewable Energy Grants since the program started in 2003. A total of $4 million was issued to Minnesota farmers and small businesses last year alone. "
Pawlenty’s JOBZ program had previously announced that US BioEnergy would recieve a $4.5 million loan and up to $1.2 million in property-tax rebates from Waseca County.
In the fiscal year ending June 30,2006, Minnesota sent $18.1 million to 13 of the state's 16 ethanol plants link plus federal tax credits and local inducements.
When the Governor was challenged on MPR concerning the need to continue tax subsidies for ethanol production, Pawlenty responded that we had to adhere to our commitments. What about the commitments that were made for LGA, gutting the state’s health insurance program, or cutting education funding that have happened during his tenure ? Are those programs subject to adjustment since they are expenditures, but we can never go back on our word to subsidize a start-up industry that is now profitable !

And back to Pawlenty’s personal “Field of Dreams”, there is a scene in the movie, where Ray Kinsella and his father discuss Heaven on Earth :
John Kinsella: Is this heaven?
Ray Kinsella: It's Iowa.
John Kinsella: Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven.
[John starts to walk away]
Ray Kinsella: Is there a heaven?
John Kinsella: Oh yeah. It's the place where dreams come true.
[Ray looks around, seeing his wife playing with their daughter on the porch]
Ray Kinsella: Maybe this is heaven.

Except when Pawlenty is campaigning for John McCain in Iowa, I bet he thinks Heaven is Minnesota --where subsidies are in the present (which make dreams come true) but consequences are in the future. Taxpayers and motorists will have nightmares.

It’s great to create “a new vision” of a revitalized rural Minnesota, but let’s not focus only on the opportunities without realizing that there are ongoing expenditures that need to be provided.

Remember fellow taxpayer, every dollar that is given as a tax subsidy is a revenue dollar that will have to be paid by us.