Read of the Day

Mike Lillis on the government subsidies foreign automakers get in Southern states:

To hear Southern Republicans tell the story, the financial burdens facing Detroit’s automakers are self-made troubles to be settled by the laws of Adam-Smith capitalism.

“We don’t think it is the role of government to intervene,” Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) told the Fox Business Network last week. “We need to let the market and the laws work the way they are already in place.”

Yet this argument — that the government has no business interfering in free markets — ignores an increasingly frequent tradition among Southern states, which have fronted billions in local taxpayer dollars in the past two decades to attract foreign auto plants. Those incentives, arriving in the form of tax breaks, training for new employees and even land, have enticed BMW to South Carolina, Mercedes to Alabama and Nissan to Tennessee. The result of the government subsidies has been the steady emergence of the South as an auto-manufacturing powerhouse. Some are dubbing it the “New Detroit” –  a region where real estate is cheap and the labor’s not unionized.

Not coincidentally, these Southern states are represented by the same coalition of GOP senators who led the fight against the recent Detroit bailout proposal. That legislation would have provided $14 billion in emergency bridge loans to General Motors and Chrysler, both of which say they lack the finances to survive the month. Rallying behind the animated opposition of GOP Sens. Bob Corker (Tenn.), Richard Shelby (Ala.), Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and South Carolina’s DeMint, Senate Republicans killed the legislation.

The White House has since stepped in to offer assistance from the $700 pot allocated earlier in the year for the Wall Street bailout so that the companies don’t go bankrupt during its tenure.

On Friday, the day following the Senate vote, Shelby told CNBC that if the Big Three had only managed their business operations as well as the foreign companies, known as transplants, they wouldn’t be scrambling now for a taxpayer-funded bailout.

“You look at the South,” Shelby said. “You take — not just Mercedes in my hometown — but BMW, Honda and all of them. These companies are flourishing with American workers made in America.”

But the flourishing of the transplants didn’t come without significant taxpayer help. Shelby’s Alabama, for example, secured construction of a Mercedes-Benz plant in 1993 by offering $253 million in state and local tax breaks, worker training and land improvement. For Honda, the state’s sweetener surrounding a 1999 deal to build a mini-van plant was $158 million in similar perks, adding $90 million in enticements when the company expanded the plant three years later. A 2001 deal with Toyota left the company with $29 million in taxpayer gifts.

Alabama is hardly alone. Corker’s Tennessee recently lured Volkswagen to build a manufacturing plant in Chattanooga, offering the German automaker tax breaks, training and land preparation that could total $577 million. In 2005, the state inspired Nissan to relocate its headquarters from southern California by offering $197 million in incentives, including $20 million in utility savings.

In 1992, South Carolina snagged a BMW plant for $150 million in giveaways. In Mississippi in 2003, Nissan was lured with $363 million. In Georgia, a still-under-construction Kia plant received breaks estimated to be $415 million. The list goes on.

The takeaway is pretty simple; the Republican Senators who killed the Detorit automaker bailout deal aren’t “free market, small government” crusaders, they’re simply out to destroy the UAW and force down the wages of US autoworkers. Period.

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