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What the Devil won't tell you

Monsanto deal no dirtier than recent Pima County triumphs

Selective outrage shouldn't stop county victory in sketchy game

I've really tried catch a case of Monsanto Derangement Syndrome but my immune system keeps fighting it off. I've watched the documentaries. I've read the articles. I've communed with the horror.

I've reached the conclusion that they are a greedy company who will ruin the little guy's life to protect what's theirs.

Hi. Welcome to America. Are you ready for some football?

The Pima County Board of Supervisors just punted a decision about whether to endorse tax breaks to the agribeasts to help the company's planned move into Marana. Their meeting last week was jammed up with Monsanto haters, who spoke for hours. Find a vegan, mention "Monsanto" and five will get you 10 you'll get a lecture.

According to the Arizona Daily Star's indomitable Tony Davis (though God knows they try), before the county is a proposal to give Monsanto a tax break to move 50 jobs to the region to work in a greenhouse. The county estimates $28 million a year in economic impact over the next 10 years. The company's property tax bill would fall from $500,000 to $190,000 under the proposal. The undeveloped land nets $2,000 in property taxes.

It's a pretty cut and dried "foreign trade zone" deal, similar to others already in the county. Local governments typically have a bit of a say in what is actually a decision made by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The feds have ultimate discretion. So the question is how much of a fight does Pima County want to wage?

Tucson can't claim purity of progressive essence while we have a cash-for-jobs economic development model that heralds the coming Caterpillar's hard-rock mining division and expansion of Raytheon Missile Systems. The county does have a way to provide clarity to corporate "bad boys," which I will get to later.

I would much rather see us double Tucson's efforts to mine the community for the next big idea. But if we are going to be in the cash-for-jobs business, this is what you get.

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If Pima County starts wavering on business deals based on the fetishes of some very squeaky wheels, well then, corporate site selectors are going to notice. And the watchword of modern business is "certainty." If Pima County and the Tucson region injects "uncertainty" into the process, then we fall further behind in the game the community seems to want to play.

One Monsanto to rule them all

I am in no way even going to halfway attempt to untangle the whole Monsanto mishegas in this column. A lot of the news about the company is found on progressive and agenda-driven websites. It doesn't make them wrong. It just means they report the news on a mission to destroy something. In this case a $45 billion company now owned by German übercorp Bayer.

In one of the most perfect pulled-punches in the annals of muted local journalism (funnier when you know how editing works), the Daily Star's Nov. 19 story detailing Monsanto's deal with Pima County declared the following: "Among some environmentalists and farmers, Monsanto is a controversial company."

Yeah ... yeah ... and among some hobbits of Middle Earth the Orcs make a controversial zombie army. Monsanto is, to a big part of the American Left, what George Soros, all things Clinton and Planned Parenthood's non-existent yet fabled Baby Parts Division is to the American right.

The Monsanto fight seems to involve the degree to which the company's passion for genetically modified "frankenfoods" and litigious in bullying farmers.

The GMO research, even seen through the most tie-dyed colored glasses is, at worst, is far-less conclusive — by any stretch of the imagination — than man-made climate change. It's a practice defended in Slate, Mother Jones and by environmentalists. Studies by the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, Britain's Royal Academy and on and on conclude GMO's are fine. To believe that the same institutions warning about climate change today and smoking decades crumble now to Monsanto, is giving the company a bit too much credit.

But ... but ... but ... this research is not like climate change research, which is verifiable in ice cores, witnessed in history and observable today. It does kinda feel like "margarine is good for you," and "dinosaurs were cold-blooded lizards," which have since been disavowed. Lord only knows the downstream effects of messing with so many crops across so much of the globe.

Did they harass farmers for unknowingly re-use seed season-to-season rather than go out and buy more Monsanto product? It sure seems like it. Farmers who practiced the millennia-old habit of "harvesting seeds" got forced into settlements or sued in court. The company is undefeated in these cases.

To buy Monsanto's seeds — largely what's on the market — farmers must sign away their right to reuse seeds. The company's own website seems to try to excuse what seems to be bullying. They seem to encourage spying among farmers on farmers, hire investigators and then demand cash payments from those farmers who may have just mistakenly regenerated Monsanto seeds, year-after-year.

The company's practice of banning seed harvesting is where this columnist wants to shout B.S. It just smacks of bullying the hearty farmer. I don't like it. I get the legal arguments for patent protection but I don't like it.

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It's not Monsanto (but totally is)

Circling back to the local question, the county is waiting until new Supervisor Steve Christy takes office and will revisit the issue in February — after President Donald Trump is sworn in.

The proposal has created a coalition of no votes out of political southpaw Richard Elias and conservative teapot Ally Miller. If one more no vote emerges on the five-person Board of Supervisors then the county will get into a battle with the new president's Department of Commerce. How much power the county's somewhat advisory vote has remains to be seen. It's state and federal authorities that will have the final say on the question.

One argument against the tax breaks isn't so much about Monsanto itself, but concludes that if Monsanto bought the land and is moving here anyway, they shouldn't get a tax break.

So the tax breaks for economic development don't go to companies that want to come, just the ones eager to game the system. I'm not sure that's the right message.

The argument seems like an excuse to deny Monsanto a tax credit because they are Monstanto without making it about Monstanto. It's like saying I'm not opposed to helping the poor but food stamps just make them hungry.

Let me ask: If Google Automotive were going to move production to Pima County of their hybrid soy-built Sustain-a-Car, would we deny them a tax credit? I would predict that even if they had previously made the decision to locate on South Houghton Road, Pima County would gladly fork over the money after the fact.

Let's not kid ourselves. This is about Monsanto.

Cast out Devilcorp

Fine. I get it. Monsanto is evil but let's get real.

Uncovered documents make Exxon-Mobil look like they sure knew man-made climate change was a real thing. They did not run to the world and say "Oh my God! We have to do something about this!" Hell no. They hired lobbyists to pretend their own discovery was a lie. Yet we still gas up there. I don't see a community boycott. We actually need gasoline.

What's more, if Tucson found kazillion barrels of oil under A Mountain, would we reject the hypothetical Sentinel Field or would we cash right in rolling in the wealth of all that black gold?

Right. We're above it on philosophical grounds.

Okay, then, allow me to remind you reader that just this month Raytheon Missile Systems announced a big expansion here in Tucson and people damned near threw a parade. Tax breaks? Sure! We'll give you a tax break.

You get, progressive supervisors, that Raytheon's product is designed to atomize human flesh, right? You get, activist Lefty, that among Raytheon's product line includes something called the AGM-176 Griffin missile. The Griffin is a small air-to-surface missile that — among other things — fits underneath an MQ-1 for special operations. I'm talking drone strikes. The Griffin is meant to compete against Lockheed-Martin's "Hellfire" missile because the Griffin causes less collateral damage. So Raytheon makes something a little better than the fires of hell.

I thought the Left was up in arms about drone strikes? Oh but if the job pays $60,000 a year and the new employees will shop at your corner Hemp Store, then by all means build the business end of those strikes right here in town.

We're still sweeping up the confetti from news this year Caterpillar was moving it's surface mining division to Tucson. Those open pit mines aren't naturally occurring. Those strip-mined mountains didn't just decide to commit suicide.

Tucson, this is the game we play when we base our economic development model on who we can bribe to come here and hire in our general vicinity. They may not hire us because our K-12 system withers on the fiscal vine but they'll hire people who will buy our services at a faster clip and that means we get to cash in on the "multiplier effect."

Clarify the good and bad

I am not just here to throw shade (a term the kids used 10 minutes ago, so they probably don't now; I'm not woke enough to know) on the idea that the community's values can be a part of it's economic development model. No sir or madame. I come with a candle.

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I refer you to Pima County Ordinance 11.28.010. It's called a debarment rule and it applies to procurement. 

Basically, debarment rules allow governments to reject a contractor's bid — as qualified as it may be — for reasons involving corporate malfeasance. In common English, it's a "Bad Boy Ordinance" and it applies to businesses with a history of criminal convictions.

Pima County is free to set down in writing a policy that refuses economic development assistance to companies with bad environmental, social or criminal backgrounds.

In procurement, the rule must be tightly written because awarding contracts has long been a vat of seediness. So the laws are written to ensure the process of awarding lucrative public contracts is on the up and up. Loose rules would provide a safe space for bid-rigging.

The county has more discretion when it comes to weighing in on who gets a tax credit and who doesn't. So, the county could adopt a debarment policy related to economic development prohibiting tax credits to company's with a sordid history.

It's good for the board sometimes to tie the hands of staff. It makes the staff's job easier. "We'd love to help but we have this policy forbidding us to do deals with companies that hire the P.R. firm of Satan, Beelzebub, The Great Deceiver and Associates..." It would also take the hypocrisy out of the equation.

In the mean time, Southern Arizona can't play the game without playing with the players. The activist wing of the Democratic Party made the supervisors play ball on elections integrity back in 2007 and now the community has to wait hours upon hours to get poll results. They might just get that amped up again.

If Pima County isn't going to make a broad policy out of who we want and who we don't, then spare us the drama. Just give Monsanto their damned shiny glass bauble and move on.

Blake Morlock covered Arizona government and politics for 15 years, including 11 in the Tucson Citizen. He also worked on Democratic Party campaigns in the field of political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.

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have your say   

2 comments on this story

Dec 1, 2016, 3:13 pm
-0 +2

OK, according to the article Pima County would net $188k in additional property taxes by accepting this deal. Now given the fact that, no matter what we think of Monsanto, they are going to put this facility somewhere, one could say that we might as well get the money. Not that I agree with this logic but it does raise another question that the article does not address.

That question is, How much spending on infrastructure like access roads etc. will the county have to spend to accommodate Monsanto? If it’s ends up costing us millions of dollars the deal doesn’t look so good. Of course when companies are challenging communities to a contest to see who can drop their pants first they always tout the number of high paying jobs their facility will bring to the area. They always highball these figures and what they don’t tell you is that the new employees will be mostly transferred in from out of state and that they factor in the salary of their CEO when they calculate the average salary that they will be paying.

So my question is exactly that, How much infrastructure expense will the county be on the hook for?

Nov 29, 2016, 7:36 pm
-0 +0

There’s a much bigger issue involved and this article, and most of the media, are ignoring it:  Not discussed in the news coverage was Monsanto’s planned cutting of some 2600 jobs nationally, over 11 percent of its workforce.  Or the closing of three research and development centers in Wisconsin, Connecticut and North Carolina with a loss of 90 jobs.  The Marana R&D greenhouse will, according to the company, generate 40-50 full- and part-time jobs over the next five years.

Monsanto received a further “incentive” from the Marana Unified School District Governing Board which accepted a one-time payment of $500,000 in lieu of the nearly $4 million in tax revenue they would have received over the next five years.

And it’s not just Monsanto.  Caterpillar closed its S. Milwaukee plant and disemployed 900 people in a town with 9000 households.  That’s devastating.

Raytheon’s much-vaunted 2000 new jobs, according to The Sentinel, will still leave a net loss of employment with the many layoffs in recent years.  HomeGoods is said to create 900 jobs at a new Distribution Center, but terminated 4,400 workers when they closed a Fall River, Massachusetts, DC.

These are issues that have to be addressed.  Some companies move to China or Mexico; others play off one community against another in search of the better “incentives” deal.  The crony capitalists get the gold while workers and communities get the shaft.  The time is overdue for a national discussion on how to make this right, but Morlock’s article above misses that point completely.

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Anti-Monsanto protesters in Hawaii, 2012.


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