Dec 9, 2002
News reports about two retiring Michigan politicians show that Republican or Democrat are just names. It's money that is their common game.
John Engler was governor for the past eight years. His public face was a conservative cost-cutter, taking the waste out of government by tossing people off of welfare and closing down social services for the poor. But in private, he cut deals that gave real estate developers multi-million dollar "welfare" payments and locked taxpayers into rent-to-own deals for 12 and even 25 years into the future.
The Michigan House Fiscal Agency reported that Engler's administration actually set a government construction record. It authorized 160 new projects that cost over 3.4 billion dollars. This was money that Michigan didn't have, and the balanced-budget law prohibited the government from taking on such debt. But Engler & Co. borrowed a page from Rent-To-Own. If the state leased buildings, the debt would fall outside the legal restriction.
No matter that the developers who get the lease payments make the crooks at Rent-To-Own look very small. Engler's deal for the old GM building let GM and Trizec unload an antique building, with the state paying the 167 million dollar remodeling costs and then leasing it from Trizec for 20 years for 12 million more a year! After 20 years the state will pay $1 to own an even more out-of-date building!
Developers Gary Granger and Joel Ferguson have a contract for 4 million dollars a year for 25 years for the lease on the House Office Building near the state capitol – after which the state will then own another out-of-date building. Granger and Ferguson also have the contract to build a new 14-story fortified headquarters for the State Police and lease it to Michigan for about 8.5 million dollars a year for 25 years. Gary Olson, head of the Senate Fiscal Agency, said that the Rent-To-Own deal will cost taxpayers 100 million dollars more than if the state had built it and owned it outright. Olson said, "We presented the data, but the state didn't want to do that."Another retiring politician who "didn't want to do that" is Ed McNamara, a Democrat, the Wayne County Executive who oversaw, among other things, the construction of the new terminal at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, named after, who else, McNamara himself! The FBI recently raided his offices. They are said to be looking into such matters as why 86% of the new airport construction contract dollars went to folks who were McNamara's campaign contributors.
Metro Cars, for example. Detroit is the only major airport that grants an exclusive limo contract for airport services. Denver and Atlanta, for example, grant over 100 contracts. The specifications for that exclusive contract were written so that only one firm, Metro Cars, could qualify. The chairman of Metro Cars was a consistent contributor to McNamara's various political funds.
Or the granting of a 1.4 million dollar road-sweeping contract to the firm that McNamara's son works for. Or the dealings of the Executive Club, the McNamara fund-raising group whose members were mostly airport contractors. Or APCOA, the parking contractor whose chairman siphoned off tens of thousands of dollars for political donations, according to a whistleblower's testimony.
It will be interesting to see what happens to the investigation, now that McNamara's former corporation counsel, Jennifer Granholm, has been elected Governor of Michigan.
Republican or Democrat, it doesn't matter. The business of politics is business, as these two retiring officials have proven once again.
And – as everyone in the state has long noted, Engler and McNamara always got on well together. No wonder!