California Bans a Tax-Break Commission

September 17, 2014 by

For Immediate Release September 17, 2014
Contact Greg LeRoy 202-232-1616 x 211

Good Jobs First Congratulates California for First-Ever Ban of Consultant Commissions on Job Subsidies

Washington, DC – Good Jobs First today congratulated the State of California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (“GO-Biz”) for the first-ever effective ban in the United States of consultants receiving percentage commissions on a major economic development tax-credit program. It also criticized the prominent tax-consulting firm led by G. Brint Ryan of Texas for seeking to overturn the ban.

“This is historic good news for taxpayers and for the economic development profession, and a teachable moment for the public about a questionable practice,” said Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First. “We expect it will provoke a backlash from site location and tax-break consultants who may threaten to blacklist California and any state that follows suit, but California is in a strong position to withstand such threats. The best thing that could happen is that many more states adopt the same rule.”

The California ban was installed in emergency regulations issued by GO-Biz on August 8 that became law August 18. It covers one program: the California Competes Tax Credit, a discretionary program totaling about $150 million gearing up for its second competitive round this month. The regulations allow consultant fees, but state in part: “Any contingent fee arrangement must result in a fee that is less than or equal to the product of the number of hours of service provided to the applicant and the industry standard hourly rate for such services.”

LeRoy’s 2005 book The Great American Jobs Scam explicitly called for site location consultants, especially those who negotiate tax breaks, to be registered and regulated as lobbyists so that success fees, a.k.a. commissions, would become illegal. “For decades, secretive site location consultants have profited greatly by orchestrating the economic war among the states, sometimes pulling down commissions of as much as 30 percent of the discretionary subsidies they win for their corporate clients,” explained LeRoy. “They have used confidentiality agreements and the unwritten threat of blacklisting to keep their business practices low-profile. California has just violated this etiquette that is so lucrative for some tax-incentive consultants.”

The California regulations were quickly challenged in a lawsuit by Ryan, the large Texas-based tax services firm that was described at length in the New York Times’ December 2012 series “United States of Subsidies.” Its founder G. Brint Ryan, is a major political donor in Texas and his firm helps fund TexasOne, the organization behind Gov. Rick Perry’s job-piracy trips to other states that Good Jobs First has criticized for their unprecedented levels of political partisanship.

“We congratulate California for a gutsy reform that should inspire many states to follow suit,” concluded LeRoy.

Good Jobs First is a non-profit, non-partisan resource center promoting accountability in economic development. Founded in 1998, it is based in Washington, DC.

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North Carolina Conflict of Interest Controversies

September 16, 2014 by

As odd as it sounds, North Carolina’s ethics law allows high-level state appointees to serve on the boards of for-profit

Secretary Sharon Decker

Secretary Sharon Decker

corporations. Such officials are prohibited, however, from taking actions that might create a conflict of interest with their official duties. Sharon Decker, the state’s secretary of commerce, is taking advantage of that law but is ignoring what many observers see as an obvious conflict.

Decker has been serving on the board of Family Dollar Stores, one of the country’s largest chains of deep-discount retailers. That part-time post pays her more (nearly $150,000 last year) than her official salary ($136,000). Being a Family Dollar director these days is more challenging than usual. The company, responding to concerns about its financial performance, agreed a few months ago to be acquired by its rival Dollar Tree. But then the biggest dollar-store chain of all, Dollar General, made its own offer.

The situation remains unresolved, but it is likely that any change in ownership of Family Dollar will jeopardize jobs at the company’s headquarters in Matthews, North Carolina. In other words, Decker, whose duties include promoting job creation, might very well be taking steps in her private position that reduces employment in the state.

Decker’s situation creates serious questions about the policy of allowing high-level economic development officials to sit on corporate boards. On one hand, those officials are responsible for protecting North Carolina jobs and for representing the state’s interest in negotiations with companies. On the other hand, as directors they are responsible for maximizing profits of corporations.

Decker is not the first high-level official whose close relationship with a private company has caused public concern. For 14 years when Gov. McCrory was Charlotte’s mayor, he was also a manager at Duke Energy. The recent coal ash spill caused by the company raised questions about whether the Governor was still advancing the interests of the company.

There is another troubling aspect of this story. The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, a newly created private arm of the Commerce Department, is about to start its operation. Its employees will follow the same ethics rules as legislators and executive branch officials, meaning that they could end up in similar positions to McCrory and Decker.

The next time they meet, North Carolina legislators might want to consider whether it’s time to overhaul the state’s conflict of interest rules.

Nevada (for Tesla): Birthplace of the Tax Credit-Capture Zone

September 16, 2014 by

September 12, 2014

Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First, today released the following statement about Nevada legislation for the Tesla “gigafactory” project.

“We are struck by several aspects of this massive subsidy package, which we price at $1.287 billion, or the 12th largest in U.S. history.

“Despite months of rhetoric about 6,000 jobs, the fine print actually does not require Tesla Motors itself to create any specific number of jobs in order to be eligible for the tax credits and abatements. Apparently, the bulk of hiring could be at suppliers.

“The only project requirement to trigger all but one the tax breaks is a total of $3.5 billion in capital investment over 10 years—and that figure covers capital expenditures by Tesla (the so-called ‘lead participant’) and all of its co-located suppliers (named along with Tesla in the bill as ‘participants’). [trigger on pages 2 and 8] [definitions on pages 6 and 7]

“In a scheme we have never seen before, ‘lead participant’ Tesla is entitled to all of the refundable tax credits (up to $195 million) even when the hiring or the capital expenditures generating those credits are made by the other ‘participant’ suppliers. Effectively, this would make the massive industrial campus CEO Elon Musk envisions a Tesla Tax Credit-Capture Zone. [pages 16 and 17] And $120 million of the refundable credits is tied to the $3.5 billion in capital expenditures; only $75 million is tied to hiring. [page 3]

“We also note that the bill requires that only half of the temporary construction workforce and half of the permanent manufacturing workforce be Nevada residents. This supports our argument that a Reno-area facility will likely draw its workforce heavily from nearby California. California could become a huge winner here, with lots of job-creation benefits and no economic development subsidy costs. And the residency requirement, even as low as it is, can be waived. [pages 9 and 11]

“The disclosure requirements for reporting of tax credit transactions and other project activities have numerous problems and grant too much final authority to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to withhold information from the public.

“The big winners in this deal are Tesla Motors and possibly the state of California. In the history of high-stakes economic development poker games, Nevada will go down as the birthplace of the Tax Credit-Capture Zone.”

Tesla: New Technology, Same Old Subsidy Charade

September 9, 2014 by

Tesla Motor’s shameful subsidy competition for its battery factory is wrapping up to a close in a state known for big gambling.  The Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) announced last week it had assembled a breathtaking package for the proposed “Gigafactory” totaling as much as $1.3 billion in tax breaks.  Governor Brian Sandoval has called the legislature into a special session starting this week to approve the deal, which is unprecedented in size in Nevada.  Included are new transferable tax credits based on the electric vehicle manufacturer’s hiring and investment, plus extensions of existing business, sales, and property tax abatement programs that would allow Tesla to operate completely tax-free in the state for ten years.  (The majority of the subsidy package lasts for twenty years.)  If approved in its current iteration, the megadeal will be among the 15 most expensive state subsidy packages in U.S. history.

powered by subsidies

 

Two weeks prior to this announcement and in anticipation of a subsidy shakedown by Tesla, Good Jobs First coordinated with groups in the five states named by Tesla to compete for the battery factory. Along with Arizona PIRG, the California Budget ProjectProgressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN), New Mexico’s SouthWest Organizing Project, and Texans for Public Justice, we issued an open letter calling for transparency and cooperation between states forced into a subsidy bidding war for the battery manufacturing jobs.  Media response to this effort was strong, but state lawmakers bound by non-disclosure agreements common to secret site selection negotiations did not comply with our requests.

Aside from the subsidy terms, the only information made public about the pending Nevada deal consists of overly optimistic job-creation talking points.  During last week’s press conference Gov. Sandoval told attendees that 22,000 new jobs would be created by the project and that the total economic impact would be $100 billion over the 20-year subsidy term.  6,500 new direct permanent positions will purportedly enjoy an average wage in excess of $25 per hour, according to the Governor’s office.  A day before the special session is rumored to begin, the economic impact study informing these extravagant economic figures has not been presented for public review and the economic projections are being challenged.  Economist Richard Florida believes 3,000 permanent positions are more likely, and estimates the total job creation impact at 9,750 – less than half of the 22,000 claimed by GOED.

For anyone paying attention to the super-hyped “Gigafactory” site selection competition, the announcement that the company had selected Reno, Nevada came as no surprise.  Although Tesla has maintained over recent months that it was also negotiating terms with Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas, it broke ground outside Reno early this summer.  The location is proximate to lithium mining operations, boasts freeway and class 1 rail access, and is less than a day’s drive from the Tesla assembly plant in Fremont.  Storey County, Nevada – Tesla’s future home – is famous in the state for approving industrial permits in less than a month.  In hindsight, Tesla’s unusual announcement that it intended to break ground in several sites is starting to appear disingenuous.

What exactly the company has been seeking over the past few months is more of a mystery.  Tesla has announced, at various points during this period, that it wanted laws changed to allow direct sales of its cars to consumers, as is the case in California.  It emphasized that the most important factor for launching the Gigafactory was expedited permitting, so Tuscon, Arizona issued Tesla an unsolicited blank building permit in July.  Initially mum on the topic of economic development subsidies, (and well after reports surfaced of a $800 million subsidy offered by San Antonio, Texas) CEO Elon Musk announced last month during a conference call that he expected the “winning “ state to ante up a $500 million investment for the battery factory.

In the context of all of this messaging on the company’s priorities, the size of the subsidy offered by Nevada is all the more confounding.  During last week’s press event in Carson City, Musk repeatedly stressed that incentives were not among Tesla’s most important considerations in its location decision.  What remains unanswered is why Nevada was compelled to offer more than double the $500 million subsidy originally sought by Tesla.  Until the veil is lifted from secretive corporate incentive negotiations, the public will be left out of the critical conversations that determine the who, where, and why of business subsidy decisions it is forced to fund.  In the meantime, many questions remain as the state’s lawmakers move toward a vote on the largest subsidy package in Nevada history.

Multiplying Megadeals

September 8, 2014 by

intel-ra-overheadjpg-4a39e7d62752a00aNevada’s $1.3 billion package for Tesla’s battery “gigafactory” is another in a seemingly endless series of giant subsidy deals that state and local governments have been made to think are the only way to attract major investments.

It comes on the heels of a $2 billion deal given to Intel in exchange for a commitment to expand its chip operations in Oregon (photo). Even California, which has tended to avoid the megadeal game, recently gave $420 million tax credits both to Lockheed Martin and to Northrop Grumman in connection with their competing bids to handle a big bomber project for the Air Force.

These are among 19 large subsidies announced in 2014 and eight from the second half of 2013 which Good Jobs First has just added to our Subsidy Tracker as part of an update to the research we did last year for our Megadeals report. We also added 27 older deals, most of them as a result of our decision to expand the definition of Megadeals to all those with a value of $60 million or more (the previous threshold was $75 million). The 54 new entries bring our total universe of Megadeals to 298, whose history — both in terms of number per year and total value per year — can be seen in the following charts.

 

Number of megadeals per year Sept 2014

Total dollar value of medageals per year Sept 2014

It’s clear that the trend toward more Megadeals we identified in our report is continuing. The spike in 2013 reflects the record-setting $8.7 billion deal Boeing got in Washington State. The number of deals during the eight months of this year is already approaching the full-year totals for recent years, and the dollar total is already ahead of 2012’s figure. A full list of our 298 Megadeals can be downloaded here.

The Megadeal additions are only part of the updates we’ve just made to Subsidy Tracker. My colleague Kasia Tarczynska collected nearly 7,000 additional basic  entries from 60 programs in 13 states, including the first disclosures made for programs such as the new California Competes tax credit and the South Carolina Film Production Incentives. See the Update Log for a list of all the additions.

We’ve also continued the process of parent-subsidiary matching announced earlier this year with the introduction of Tracker 2.0. We just uploaded matches for more than 100 additional parent companies, bringing the total to 1,415.  We have linked these parents to 35,000 individual entries whose aggregate dollar value equals 77 percent of all the entries in Tracker.

Megadeals may be marching on, but they cannot escape our scrutiny.

Tesla, We Have Questions

September 4, 2014 by

For Immediate Release September 4, 2014

Contacts: Bob Fulkerson bfulkerson@planevada.org 775-348-7557

Greg LeRoy goodjobs@goodjobsfirst.org 202-232-1616 x 211

Bob Fulkerson of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada and Greg LeRoy of Good Jobs First issued the following statement regarding reports that Tesla plans to announce it has chosen Nevada for its “gigafactory,” or massive electric-car battery factory.

This is a huge event in Nevada history. If the taxpayer subsidy package for the facility is $500 million or more, as Tesla has demanded, it would be the biggest subsidy package in Nevada history by a factor of more than five. (There is only one recorded eight-figure deal in Nevada history and none over $89 million.)

The announcement only raises more questions:

  1. Was the five-state auction all just a charade to extract bigger subsidies from the state Tesla had already chosen? (Tesla broke ground in an industrial park in Reno, Nevada in July.)
  2. If it was a charade, does that mean Tesla doesn’t need any Nevada subsidies because the business basics drove the project to Reno (which has good access to key material inputs and is also close to Tesla’s assembly facility in Fremont, California)?
  3. When will the full details of the proposed Nevada subsidy package be released to the public? How many days will Nevada taxpayers have to weigh the costs versus the benefits before the legislature votes on the deal?
  4. Will Tesla agree to the Good Jobs First/MoveOn petition demand and allow all five states’ commerce agencies to immediately release their Tesla project files so that taxpayers can see how seriously Tesla considered the other states and how much in subsidies each state offered?
  5. Exactly how does Tesla’s claim of 6,500 new jobs break down? How many would be temporary construction jobs? How many would be permanently directly employed by Tesla? How many would be associated with unnamed suppliers? (Tesla and Panasonic’s joint July 31 press release says half the space will be occupied by suppliers.) Are any of the 6,500 projected jobs indirect or so-called “ripple effect” jobs?
  6. How good will the Tesla jobs be? What will be the median wage for non-managerial production workers? What will the benefit package consist of?
  7. Will Nevada taxpayers be protected by “clawback” language that would require Tesla to refund some or all of the subsidies (and/or lose future subsidies) if the deal fails to deliver all of the promised jobs?
  8. How many of the engineering and other highly-paid jobs at the plant will be filled by people who will move to the Reno area from out of state?

Until these questions are answered, Nevada taxpayers will remain in the dark. Without answers, no one will be able to judge if Nevada elected officials are overspending for a trophy deal.

Ask Tesla’s Elon Musk to Open-Source His Subsidy Demands

September 3, 2014 by

Good Jobs First has launched a petition through MoveOn asking Tesla CEO Elon Musk to open-source his ≥$500 million subsidy demands.

Sign the petition here.

Tesla Motors is demanding at least $500 million in taxpayer subsidies, whipsawing AZ, CA, NV, NM and TX siting a huge battery factory.

If it’s really confident that such massive subsidies are justified, Tesla should release the five states from non-disclosure agreements and allow taxpayers to see the files.

Elon Musk: open-source your subsidy-application files and let taxpayers weigh costs and benefits!

 

Sign the petition here.

 

Read the rest of this entry »

Tesla Open Letter Electrifies Gigafactory Debate

August 29, 2014 by

Early this week Good Jobs First joined its voice with those of progressive organizations in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Texas to express concerns about the pending subsidy bidding war over Tesla’s proposed Gigafactory.  In case you missed it, an open letter signed by Arizona PIRG, the California Budget Project, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN), New Mexico’s SouthWest Organizing Project, Texans for Public Justice  and Good Jobs First regarding the multi-state competition has been generating growing media attention.  The letter calls for state leaders to seize the opportunity presented by Tesla’s subsidy demands, communicate with each other, and reject the harmful Race to the Bottom.

Much of our daily work at Good Jobs First consists of monitoring massive subsidy packages that often don’t receive much attention in the media.  But events like the Gigafactory bidding war provide an opportunity to break down these complicated issues into smaller pieces that allow a practical public dialogue about job creation, competition, and fairness.

Read the rest of this entry »

North Carolina Puts the Brakes on Subsidy Spending but Moves Ahead on Privatization

August 25, 2014 by

North Carolina State Capitol. Image by Abbylabar (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

North Carolina State Capitol. Image by Abbylabar (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

For the past decade, North Carolina has spent heavily on subsidies, abandoning its previous economic stinginess. In an encouraging new reversal, the Tar Heel State is returning to its old ways. In a just completed short session, the state legislature took two important steps to limit giveaways: it ended one of the country’s biggest film tax credit programs and it defeated a proposal by Gov. Pat McCrory and Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker to create a deal-closing slush fund. The defeat of the fund also meant the rejection of an expansion of several existing subsidy programs and a special deal for a paper mill.

Not everything coming out of the session was positive. Lawmakers moved ahead with an ill-conceived plan to privatize job recruitment functions of the state’s Commerce Department. The plan was approved despite warnings of problems with similar quasi-public agencies across the country and despite revelations by the N.C. Policy Watch that the Partnership’s CEO lacks experience in economic development and led his company into bankruptcy.

It was the second attempt by the Governor and Commerce Secretary to pass this bill. During the previous legislative session, a similar proposal failed when an amendment that would lift the state moratorium on hydraulic fracturing was added to the bill (the North Carolina chapter in our Creating Scandals Instead of Jobs study has more details on that plan).

Read the rest of this entry »

An Open Letter to Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas Officials About Tesla Motors

August 25, 2014 by

For Immediate Release August 25, 2014

Contact: Diane E. Brown (Arizona) dbrown@arizonapirg.org (602) 252-9227
Chris Hoene (California) choene@cbp.org (916) 444-0500
Bob Fulkerson (Nevada) bfulkerson@planevada.org 775-348-7557
Javier Benavidez (New Mexico) javier@swop.net 505-315-3596
Craig McDonald, (Texas) craig@tpj.org 512-472-9770
Greg LeRoy goodjobs@goodjobsfirst.org 202-232-1616 x 211

An Open Letter to Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas Officials About Tesla Motors

There is no question that state officials should place a high priority on boosting employment and fostering economy opportunity. But recently our states have been pitted into a race to the bottom from which no real winner may emerge. Tesla Motors’ proposed “Gigafactory” – undoubtedly a valuable source of economic growth for its eventual home state – has been offered to you in an unusual public auction, with the opening bid set at $500 million in subsidies. Since Tesla has chosen to make the process public, we write as unified voices from Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas to argue that our states have more to gain from cooperation than from competition.

We call upon you to communicate and cooperate across state lines to strike a fiscally responsible deal that is fair to residents and businesses alike. It is time to break the harmful pattern of one state “winning” a high-profile competition, with other states left believing they need to offer even larger tax breaks to win future deals.

Overspending on Tesla – or any other company – could be a net-loss game in which fewer public resources are then available for investments in areas that benefit all employers, such as education and training, efficient infrastructure, and public safety. All state and local taxes combined equal less than 2 percent of a typical company’s cost structure, but lost tax revenue comes 100 percent out of public budgets.

What’s needed are smarter deals, recognizing that all of our states could potentially spend $500 million on other vital public services. Any agreement struck must be fully transparent – no law requires you to negotiate with Tesla or any company behind closed doors – and, furthermore, should include robust provisions for disclosing actual costs and benefits over time. Our states’ residents should feel confident that there are strict performance requirements and money-back guarantees to ensure Tesla delivers what it promises.

Tesla might even be receptive to a multi-state dialogue. The iconoclastic company, internationally known for innovation, could help chart a new path in how economic development is done. The automotive industry – with its far-flung supply chains and 50-state market – is a poster child for the idea that states are interdependent and that the main goal is the long-term growth of American jobs, not any single state’s ribbon-cutting.

We call upon our elected officials to seize this rare opportunity: talk to each other, let the public into the process, and when the time comes, strike a smarter deal that will preserve the tax base for the benefit of all.

Signed,

Diane E. Brown, Arizona PIRG

Chris Hoene, California Budget Project

Bob Fulkerson, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada

Javier Benavidez, Southwest Organizing Project (New Mexico)

Craig McDonald, Texans for Public Justice

Greg LeRoy, Good Jobs First

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