By Fighting Words Staff
On June 29 the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously decided in favor of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case brought by activist David Sole on behalf of the Moratorium Now Coalition.
Sole, in November of 2018, had asked for public disclosure of the amount of the tax break that had been given to the General Motors Corporation (GM) by the Michigan Economic Growth Authority (MEGA) in 2016. While the state authority did provide documents concerning their award to GM, the total amount involved was refused. “The total value of the MEGA Tax Credits that may be claimed over the term of the Agreement” was deemed by the state agency to be exempt from disclosure. MEGA declared the total amount “confidential and not subject to FOIA disclosure requirements.” (Supreme Court decision, page 3).
Both the Court of Claims, and later the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld MEGA’s position and denied the appeal filed by David Sole and his attorney, Jerome Goldberg. On December 8, 2021 Goldberg presented oral arguments before the Michigan Supreme Court. And six months later that court voted to overturn the lower courts.
According to David Sole, “We knew that the State of Michigan was giving what must have been billions of dollars in tax credits to GM at the time the company was announcing numerous plant closings. We wanted to publicize this outrage and develop a campaign to stop handing out public funds to a company that was causing thousands of workers to lose their jobs.”
In November 2018 GM had announced the planned closing of the Detroit Hamtramck Assembly Plant, the Warren (MI) Transmission facility, the Lordstown, OH plant, the Baltimore Operations plant in Maryland and the Oshawa Plant in Ontario, Canada. Over 6,000 union jobs were to be eliminated.
When MEGA refused to disclose the amount of the tax credits, the Moratorium Now Coalition decided to pursue the matter in court, Less than one year later the United Auto Workers (UAW) union went on strike against GM. On September 15, 2019, fifty plants nationwide were shut down putting about 48,000 union workers on the picket line. During the strike, supporters from the Moratorium Now Coalition walked the picket lines in Detroit and publicized the fact that the corporation was being subsidized by public funded tax credits. The strike ended forty days later, on October 25.
An article in Fighting-Words.net from October 2019 explained “Under the MEGA tax credits, which stay in effect until 2032, the corporation can claim a credit on state taxes owed for any year they are profitable. They are expected to maintain job levels to qualify for the credit, not shut down plants. And local governments across Michigan have regularly granted tax breaks to encourage GM to build plants in their jurisdiction.”
Interestingly, some right-wing think tanks filed friend of the court briefs supporting this FOIA struggle. Of course, they did not do so from a progressive perspective to support workers and oppose corporations. Perhaps they wanted to curry favor from the small business right-wing base in the Republican Party which may also be victims of big business predations.
The Supreme Court ruling has garnered a great deal of attention. An editorial in the conservative Detroit News supported the decision. But that paper has never waged any campaign in support of striking workers or to keep plants open.
Here is the link to the Supreme Court decision: Supreme Court ruling-SOLE v MICHIGAN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION