Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau lashed out Tuesday at county economic development incentives, saying they violate biblical law and are like the federal Solyndra scandal.
And Ranzau’s example of a company that makes it on its own — Apple — actually has received hundreds of millions of dollars in government aid.
“You know we have the (commandments), ‘Thou shalt not covet,’ and ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ ” he said. “Our economic policy on forgivable loans violates both of those because a business comes in and says, ‘I want somebody else’s money, I’m going to covet the taxpayer money.’
“And we say, ‘OK, we will take that and redistribute it to you.’ That’s theft.”
Ranzau, who said it’s not government’s job to create jobs, is a frequent critic of economic development assistance.
His latest target is Johnson Controls, a heating and air-conditioning company that manufactures equipment under the Coleman and other brand names.
Wichita approved a $42,500 forgivable loan to the company and the county commission is being asked to approve a similar amount. The loans are the local share of a $1.2 million package to help the company move 182 jobs to Wichita from its factory in Norman, Okla.
The issue is scheduled for a vote at the commission’s meeting at 9 a.m. today at the County Courthouse, 525 N. Main, Wichita.
Ranzau said he doesn’t think the loan is necessary.
“We’re going to give money to a company whose jobs are going to come here no matter what,” he said.
County Community Development Director Irene Hart said she sees such economic development incentives as a contract.
“It really is a partnership showing good will and holding them accountable for a five-year period to retain and grow jobs here,” she said.
“But it’s not a proper function of government, OK?” Ranzau replied. “It’s not the government’s job. If someone needs equipment and they need money that’s what banks are for.”
“Well, according to the laws of Kansas, sir, it’s .æ.æ.” Hart began.
She never finished because Ranzau interrupted: “I don’t care if it’s legal, that doesn’t mean it’s right. We have this rule of law, the idea that people are entitled to their own money and the government shouldn’t be able to take it and give it to someone else.”
Ranzau compared the county’s economic development efforts to federal efforts to aid Solyndra, a California-based solar-power company that went bankrupt after receiving a $535 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy.
“We have a failed policy here, just like (President) Obama has a failed policy in Washington, D.C., but we refuse to admit it, just as he refuses to admit that his policies have failed,” Ranzau said.
Commissioner Jim Skelton objected to Ranzau’s characterization of other officials’ views, which he called “guesswork.
“I just think it’s reasonable here to look at the pros and the cons,” he said. “I’m not going to sit hereæ.æ.æ. and provide everybody with a lecture on my philosophy.”
He also disagreed with Ranzau’s statements about the federal government.
“We canæ.æ.æ. see many places, Third-World places, where the government doesn’t do anything for their people,” Skelton said. “Our federal government is one of the reasons America isæ.æ.æ. the strongest country in the world and does have the biggest economy.”
Ranzau fired back: “This country’s not great because of the federal government. This country is great because of the people exercising their freedoms and liberties to prosper and make this government great, this country.”
Ranzau cited Apple founder Steve Jobs as a self-made entrepreneur who illustrates his point.
“We didn’t have to give him any money or create a TIF district or give him a forgivable loan,” Ranzau said. “All we had to do was give him the freedom and liberty to live his life and to accomplish his dreams.”
In fact, Apple’s a major recipient of government aid.
To help the company when it was struggling in the 1990s, Cupertino, Calif., agreed to share sales tax on products sold through Apple’s headquarters. The amount of the benefit is undisclosed but is in the millions of dollars.
In 2009, Apple received a package of state, county and city incentives — valued at $300 million over 30 years — to build a data center in Maiden, N.C.
After Ranzau raised his point about Jobs and Apple, commission Chairman David Unruh wound down the debate.
“OK, we’ve had a good discussion, I guess,” he said.