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Kansas City Missouri Weighs Proposal to Cap Property Tax-Based Subsidies

October 14, 2014

Cerner's Subsidized Campus

The Kansas City, Missouri city council will take up a familiar issue in the coming weeks:  How much revenue should be devoted to economic development endeavors?  KCMO Mayor Sly James has proposed a limit on the amount of property tax available to subsidize development in the city.  His proposal, under consideration but not yet approved by the council, would cap the amount of property tax available for use as a subsidy at 50 percent of the total property value for any given project.

Property tax abatements and tax increment financing are commonly employed subsidies in the Kansas City area.  The Tax Increment Financing Commission and the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority both retain the power to approve subsidies that capture up to 100 percent of the total property tax value of a project.  Other taxing jurisdictions that rely on property taxes to fund public services – school districts, counties, and fire districts are shorted revenue by these diversions.

If approved, Mayor James’ proposal would cap these subsidies by prohibiting the KCMO city council from approving any deals made by the economic development entities in which more than 50 percent of the property tax is diverted from public coffers.  The Mayor’s reform proposal comes just a year after the City Council approved one of the largest tax increment financing deals in history for Cerner Corp., which stands to receive a $1.6 billion subsidy for the expansion of its corporate campus in South Kansas City.

Wasteful, inequitable subsidy awards are a predictable result when tax revenues are spent by special economic development authorities before even making it to state and local general funds.  Mayor James’ proposed cap is a good first step to ensure that at least some of the public’s money is reserved for public purposes.

 

Tesla: New Technology, Same Old Subsidy Charade

September 9, 2014

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.

Tesla Open Letter Electrifies Gigafactory Debate

August 29, 2014

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.

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Report: Sprawling Job Piracy among Cities and Suburbs Can Be Ended

July 10, 2014

Denver Illustration191px

Washington, DC – The most common form of job piracy-among neighboring localities in the same metro area-can be ended, as agreements in the Denver and Dayton metro areas have proved for decades. The agreements prohibit active recruitment within the metro area, and they require communication and transparency between affected development officials if a company signals it might move.

Those are the main conclusions of a new study released today by Good Jobs First. “Ending Job Piracy, Building Regional Prosperity,” is online at www.goodjobsfirst.org.

The study finds that even regions like the Twin Cities, with revenue-sharing systems intended to deter job piracy, have rampant job piracy because they lack the procedural safeguards Denver and Dayton have. Multi-state metro areas like Kansas City suffer the problem on steroids because state subsidies fuel the problem.

Career economic development professional staff-not elected officials-are best suited to institute anti-piracy systems, although politicians and the public generally should be educated about the value of such agreements. Information-sharing about companies considering relocation is also key. And states need to amend incentive codes to stop requiring local subsidies to match state awards, to deny state monies for intra-state relocations, and to deny eligibility for such relocations to locally administered tax increment financing (TIF) districts. These changes will deter job piracy and promote regionalism, the study concludes.

“The anti-piracy agreements we describe focus on economic development professionals communicating openly with each other in a transparent system,” said Leigh McIlvaine, GJF research analyst and lead author of the study. “When local officials cooperate for the benefit of the metro area, they can better focus on attracting investment and jobs that are truly new.”

“We know from previous studies that intra-regional job piracy fuels job sprawl, harming older areas, communities of color and transit-dependent workers,” said GJF executive director Greg LeRoy. “By favoring retention, anti-piracy agreements help stabilize employment in areas that need help the most, and areas that provide more commuters the choice of transit.”

Good Jobs First is a non-partisan, non-profit group promoting accountable development and smart growth for working families. Founded in 1998, it is based in Washington, DC.

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Missouri Seeks Cease-Fire in Kansas City Border War

July 2, 2014

borderwar01-1200xx900-506-0-85A bill signed this week by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has the potential to solve one aspect of the wasteful jobs border war currently ravaging the Kansas City metropolitan economy: the use of state subsidies to fuel intra-regional business relocations.  Senate Bill 635 would prohibit the state’s business subsidies from being awarded to businesses relocating within the two-state metro area from Kansas to Missouri.  However, the law will only go into effect if Kansas enacts a companion law limiting its own use of state business incentives in the Kansas City metro within the next two years.

The legislation was sponsored by state Sen. Ryan Silvey (R-Kansas City), who called the practice of subsidizing companies to hop the border “senseless.”  The bill also had the support of the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, which stated that it was one of its “highest legislative priorities.”  One of the most vocal supporters of the effort to end the border war is a coalition of metropolitan business leaders, who in 2011 submitted an open letter to governors in both states demanding a cease-fire on the use of subsidies for intra-regional relocations.  And in June, while awaiting Gov. Nixon’s signature on SB635, the business coalition again appealed to both leaders in an open letter:

“For the last several years, both states have followed a destructive practice of encouraging a cross border job shuffle. This has cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and it has generated little or no new economic activity. Neither state is a winner in this game as one state loses tax revenue while the other state forgives it.”

For its part, Kansas has signaled little interest in supporting a companion bill, citing the need of local suburban jurisdictions to pursue their own economic development agendas.  This is an ironic position to take, given the extent to which state subsidies have interfered in metropolitan economic dynamics in the region.  The best way to allow localities to pursue their own economic development agendas would be for both states to stop providing ammunition for the border war.

New ProgressOhio Report: JobsOhio Unaccountable and Ineffective

May 29, 2014

ProgressOhioLogo_transp1

ProgressOhio released a report today questioning the accountability and effectiveness of JobsOhio, the privatized economic development agency created by Gov. John Kasich in 2011.  The organization found that JobsOhio “exaggerated its impact, funneled state money to companies that did not create or retain the promised jobs, and has a pattern of helping companies with ties to its politically potent governing board.”

The report was released in conjunction with a discussion hosted by the American Constitution Society.    ProgressOhio Executive Director Brian Rothenberg told the event audience that “JobsOhio is secret because it is private. But we still get glimpses of the toxic mix of public money and private gain.”

Read the full report here.

Supersizing New Jersey’s Subsidies

April 8, 2014

What a waste

Economic development incentives are making headlines again in New Jersey.   Following a massive legislative overhaul of the state’s business subsidy programs last year, Good Jobs First predicted that the state would quickly lose control of spending through the expanded programs.  It took less than a year for the state Economic Development Authority (EDA) to prove us right.

The (Bergen) Record revealed this weekend that under the new subsidy structure the EDA has awarded twice the amount of business incentives as it did during the first quarter of last year:

“The grants so far, awarded in the form of tax credits, totaled $355 million. That’s about $89 million a month, compared with about $36 million a month awarded under the state’s main incentive programs in the first nine months of 2013, authority data show. The state made about six awards a month under the revamped programs, nearly double the number in the first nine months of 2013.” (source)

Prior to the state’s business subsidies undergoing scrutiny as a result of the ongoing David Samson/Christie-Gate scandal, and even before the structural overhaul that has allowed the current subsidy surge, New Jersey was already facing criticism for its excessive spending on business incentives.  During its first two and a half years, the Christie Administration awarded nearly $2 billion in tax incentives and grants.

All this spending has done little to help the state’s economy.   New Jersey’s employment recovery rate lags behind the rest of the nation and reports that small business owners are still having trouble accessing Hurricane Sandy recovery funds are persistent.  Unfortunately for residents, the Christie Administration has already demonstrated that doubling the state’s already ineffective business incentive spending isn’t likely to have much of an impact.  Supersizing subsidy spending is no recipe for prosperity in the Garden State.

Accountability Updates in Oregon

March 20, 2014

intel sign

Two new reports released this week by watchdog groups in Oregon show mixed results for accountability of the state’s economic development subsidies.

OSPIRG released Revealing Tax Subsidies 2014, an update to its previous evaluation of how well the state is complying with its three year old transparency law.  While the state has improved its disclosure since OSPIRG’s last assessment, especially for large controversial programs, the group found that the state is still failing to report key information for 14 of the 19 subsidies covered by the law.  In particular, many of these under-disclosed programs are missing information about the economic outcomes (e.g. jobs, wages, or investment) ostensibly generated by these subsidies.

Lacking such information, it is impossible to know whether the colossal corporate tax subsidies documented this week by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy and Citizens for Tax Justice are actually doing the state any good.  The Oregon Center for Public Policy announced yesterday that at least 24 (and probably many more) of the state’s most profitable corporations included in that report have paid no state income tax in recent years.  Oregon has a minimum corporate tax, but companies are able to dodge their tax responsibility with economic development subsidy tax credits.

Read the full OSPIRG report here and see OCPP’s reporting on corporate tax dodging here.  The ITEP/CTJ national study is available here.

New Jersey’s Economic Development Incentives Face Scrutiny with Christie Administration

March 5, 2014

Christie troubleAs the Christie Administration faces intensifying scrutiny over the Governor’s relationships with his political appointees, the state’s economic development incentive awards have also come into question.  This week The New York Times revealed that David Samson, Chairman of the Port Authority and the central figure of “Bridge-gate,” also played a critical role in expanding the scope of New Jersey’s subsidies through his law firm Wolff & Samson.  In addition to lobbying for tax breaks for Honeywell, the firm also served as counsel for the state’s bond deal on the controversial Panasonic relocation, and represented the infamous Xanadu (now American Dream) project when it sought a new set of subsidies from the state.

New Jersey Policy Perspective revealed a year ago that the volume and value of special tax breaks given to companies mushroomed under Gov. Christie’s leadership, rising to a record $2.1 billion in the first three years of his term.  But the subsidy blowout hasn’t demonstrated a positive effect on New Jersey’s employment rate, according to Jon Whiten at NJPP.  Compared to the national average, the state has recovered half as many jobs following the recession.  We may now be getting a better understanding of how these subsidies were used, if not for job creation.

Read the full article “In Job, Appointee Profits and Christie Gains Power” at The New York Times website.

New Jersey’s Big Money Clearing House

February 25, 2014

-money-houseLast week the Huffington Post revealed another chapter of the still evolving Christie-Gate saga (now including economic development subsidies!).  The New Jersey Governor’s mansion, used extensively by the Christie Administration for fundraisers and state business, is maintained by the Drumthwacket Foundation – a non-profit of modest means until the current administration.  That is no longer the case, as Christina Wilke exposed last week.  Donations to the Drumthwacket Foundation have skyrocketed in recent years, many of them made by businesses and individuals seeking economic development incentives, high profile appointments, and government contracts.

Chief among these donors are John Strangfeld, the chairman of insurance giant Prudential, and his wife, Mary Kay Strangfeld – now also chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the Drumthwacket Foundation.  A year after the Strangfelds assumed leadership of the foundation, Prudential received a jaw-dropping $250 million tax subsidy deal from the state Economic Development Authority that didn’t even require the company to create any new jobs.  (Prudential is massively subsidized in other states as well – see our new Subsidy Tracker 2.0 database for more information on awards to the company’s subsidiaries across the nation.)

Head on over to the Huffington Post for more details on the Strangfeld/Prudential deal and the rest of the story – it deserves to be read in its entirety.


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