Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s controversial plan to award an estimated $1.7 billion in corporate tax credits to Royal Dutch Shell became law with the passage of the state’s budget late Saturday night. The 25-year deal—one of the largest subsidy packages ever awarded to an individual company in the United States—is for an ethane refinery that Shell plans to build north of Pittsburgh in Beaver County. Known as a “cracker,” the facility will break down ethane into other petrochemical products.
The legislation did not name Shell but limited the new credit of 5 cents for each gallon of ethane purchased for processing to crackers that create at least 2,500 jobs and make a capital investment of $1 billion, which is what Shell plans to do.
It is no secret that the Corbett Administration cooked up the new credit in order to land the Shell project, which the company also shopped to Ohio and West Virginiain search of the best subsidy deal. The $1.7 billion price tag of Gov. Corbett’s package shocked Pennsylvania residents and made national news. Astonishingly, the final signed law contains no annual or cumulative cap on the total value of credits that ethane refineries can claim, meaning the cost may be even larger than Gov. Corbett’s original proposal.
Because the Shell cracker will be located inside a virtually tax-free Keystone Opportunity Zone, the immediate value of its state tax credits will be derived from the cash value of selling them to other firms for an estimated 15 years. The state changed an existing KOZ boundary to accommodate Shell’s project, despite the fact that the township never requested that the boundary be expanded.
The Corbett Administration, Shell and the American Chemistry Council trade association sought to justify the sweet deal with a contentious claim that the project would create a total of 20,000 new jobs, a figure composed of direct, indirect, induced, and temporary jobs such as construction positions. The jobs figure was repeated by industry parties and notably, Administration officials, who were later forced to quietly revise the laughably rosy jobs estimate to half that amount, after admitting under pressure that no independent job creation analysis had been performed. The Administration’s revised 10,000 new jobs figure remains no less preposterous, given that the ACC estimates just 400 to 600 permanent jobs will result from the new refinery. (For more information about calculating “ripple effects” of job creation, see this report by the U.S. Economic Development Administration.)
Any legitimate economic analysis would have difficulty showing how the state could recoup a quarter of a century of huge giveaways to Shell. Pollution concerns notwithstanding, the state needs to consider the potentially short life span of an industry based on depletion of limited resources such as natural gas. Fortunately for Gov. Corbett, he will be out of office long before a final accounting of the deal can be made.