News Story

Tlaib Against Corporate Welfare Except When She Votes For It

In Michigan House she voted ‘yes’ on giving $1.031 billion to corporations

In her words, Detroit Democrat Rashida Tlaib has been among the most outspoken opponents of corporate welfare.

In her votes, that’s not the case. Now a member of Congress, Tlaib first spent six years as a member of the Michigan House of Representatives. During that time, she voted for every direct business subsidy measure that came before her, authorizing a total of $1.031 billion in cash transfers from state taxpayers to big corporations and developers.

Tlaib’s current stance on corporate welfare was displayed in a press release requesting that several U.S. House committees hold investigative hearings on whether political campaign contributions influenced the process for designating parts of Detroit as “opportunity zones,” areas in which developers can get federal tax breaks. Tlaib’s request was based on a ProPublica article claiming that the zones fail to meet the law’s eligibility standards, allegedly due to lobbying by billionaire developer Dan Gilbert and other political donors.

“This is yet another example of how corporate greed and the influence of billionaires have infected our government like a disease,” Tlaib said.

“Residents in my district have witnessed time and time again how the desires of wealthy individuals are put before their needs—enough is enough,” she continued. “This is not how our government, or our democracy should work. We must take action to uncover the truth.”

Tlaib’s attitude about taxpayer subsidies for politically favored developers and corporations may have changed since she was termed-limited out of the Michigan House of Representatives at the end of 2014. The conclusion is based on a 2018 analysis by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy that tracked votes to authorize business subsidies by every Michigan legislator going back to 2001.

As a state representative from 2009 through 2014, Tlaib voted for every one of the corporate subsidy authorizations that came before her, voting “yes” in each case, with the exception of one roll call vote for which she was absent (Tlaib missed a total of 43 roll call votes during the 2009-2010 Michigan legislature).

Specifically, the analysis examined votes on bills that authorized actual cash payments to businesses, not just tax breaks or other selective privileges.

During her six years in the Michigan House Tlaib was generally supportive of programs that grant tax breaks and other kinds of privileges to certain businesses, in the name of economic development. One notable exception occurred on a vote for a different kind of subsidy in 2012, which was using the Detroit Downtown Development Authority to funnel taxpayer dollars to Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch for a stadium complex. Tlaib joined 36 other Democrats and 12 Republicans in voting against the measure, which passed 58 to 49.

Tlaib also criticized corporate welfare in January in a newspaper commentary, when she alleged business subsidized corporations’ “greed” while citizens received “nothing in return.”

Six months after Tlaib left the Michigan House, the legislators enacted a law authorizing hundreds of millions in subsidies to Detroit developer Dan Gilbert in the form of cash transfers of revenue collected from people and businesses who paid Michigan state income and other taxes. The vote in the House was 85 to 22, with just three Democrats voting “no.” (The three were Stephanie Chang, Yousef Rabhi and Rose Mary Robinson).

Tlaib's office didn't respond to an email seeking comment.