News Story

Reality Check

It may sound good, but is it true?

Reality Check


Hoekstra's Tough Talk

GOP gubernatorial candidate Pete Hoekstra recently addressed a crowd about one way he'd solve the state's reputation for not being "business friendly."

He said that if someone at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality inhibited economic growth projects, he would call that employee into his office the next day and say, "Thank you for doing your job. But I'm going to have to lay you off."

Rep. Hoekstra's point was that the economic success of business in Michigan is tied to the success of state government.

Sounds good. But Hoekstra's tough talk may not get the results he envisions.

Unless that employee were a political appointee — very uncommon in state government — a governor would have great difficulty firing any state employee, according to Paul Kersey, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

"Unless it is pretty blatant what the employee did, odds are he is not going to succeed in having that guy laid off," Kersey said. "You'd have to figure the union is going to file a grievance. ... The process will take time, and unless the official's action was blatantly wrong, odds that he'll receive more than a wrist slap are slim."

Kersey said Hoekstra could transfer that employee "to an area where he does less damage, but at the same salary and benefits."


Johnny Depp's Hair

At a House tax policy meeting on the Michigan Film Incentive, which gives tax rebates to filmmakers who shoot in the state, there was a discussion about the need for transparency.

Some politicians were concerned about some of the embarrassing issues that have popped up in other states that offer similar incentives to filmmakers.

Howard Ryan, a policy advisor for the Senate Majority Policy Office, told a reporter after the hearing that Wisconsin has had such a moment.

Ryan said Wisconsin's film incentive program took some heat because it had to pay for a $5,000 hair cut for Johnny Depp. The star was in Wisconsin to film "Public Enemies."

The Wisconsin film subsidy does cover the cost of expenses such as hairstyling. But David Fantle, chairman of the board of Film Wisconsin, said he had never heard of the $5,000 hair cut to cover Depp's alleged grooming.

"Not to my knowledge at all," Fantle said.

According to Tony Hozeny of the Wisconsin Commerce Department, the production company spent a total of $5,626.15 for Depp's hairstyling during the time the filming took place in Wisconsin. The production company received a tax credit of 25 percent of that amount, or $1,406.29.


Troy Millage Facts

Troy Citizens United has a Web site to support the group's efforts to defeat a proposed millage increase on the ballot Feb. 23.

Under the section on the Web site called "Troy Spending," the site asks, "What is Troy's Government doing now? WELL.... IT'S WASTING AND SPENDING YOUR TAX DOLLARS." The site posts the salaries of the Michigan governor ($177,000), Oakland County executive ($176,147) and the mayor of Detroit ($176,176) in contrast to the Troy City manager's $225,000 salary and asks "WHY???"

However, that's an apples-to-oranges comparison.

The salaries of the other executives being compared to the Troy City manager are only base salaries. Troy City Manager John Szerlag makes $133,000 a year and also draws a pension, which boosts his total compensation to $220,000. Szerlag, 59, worked for the city of Troy for 22 years and retired before returning as the top administrator.

Elsewhere on the Web site, the Troy citizens group acknowledges that the Troy City manager's compensation does include a pension.

For the record, Szerlag's base salary as a city manager was $140,000, but he voluntarily took a $7,000 cut in October. His salary is not out of line with those of other city managers in the state.

Grand Rapids City Manager Greg Sundstrom makes $142,000 a year. Ann Arbor City Administrator Roger Fraser makes $145,354. Birmingham City Manager Thomas Markus makes $159,690. Bloomfield Hills City Manager Jay Cravens makes $111,000.