Author Archive

What’s Wrong with ALEC’s Subsidy Critique

July 25, 2014

alexexposedAt Good Jobs First we are normally pleased when another organization takes an interest in our issue and adds its voice to the campaign to end the wasteful subsidies given to corporations by state and local governments. Yet when it’s the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) signing on, we can’t be quite so welcoming.

ALEC, a lightning rod for controversy relating to its role in promoting voter suppression, private prisons and “stand-your-ground” policies (read Trayvon Martin), has just issued a report entitled The Unseen Costs of Tax Cronyism: Favoritism and Foregone Growth.

At first glance, the study echoes many arguments we have made since our founding 16 years ago and which Greg LeRoy cataloged in The Great American Jobs Scam. It points out how the granting of special tax breaks for certain corporations (Boeing’s $8 billion deal in Washington State is cited as a “notorious example”) tends to increase the tax burden on other companies and puts them at a competitive disadvantage. ALEC also notes, using the example of the producers of the Netflix series “House of Cards” in Maryland, how companies that get subsidies to locate in a state may later threaten to leave unless they receive even more giveaways.

Yet the similarities to our work go only so far. Rather than an independent research group, as ALECExposed has documented, ALEC is essentially a front for powerful corporations to transmit their state legislative wish lists to business-friendly legislators. Although ALEC’s board is made up of elected officials, the real power in the organization comes from its corporate backers. The most important of these are the 10 companies represented on its Private Enterprise Advisory Council.

We checked those companies against our Subsidy Tracker database (which the ALEC authors choose not to mention, citing instead a New York Times compilation based largely on our data). It turns out that all but one of the 10 companies have received state and local subsidies. In some cases the aggregate subsidy amounts have been enormous: $340 million to Exxon Mobil, $278 million to Peabody Energy, $202 million to Pfizer, $133 million to United Parcel Service, and $89 million to Koch Industries, run by the supposedly free-market purist Koch Brothers. The total for the nine companies is more than $1 billion. The one company in the group that has apparently not received direct subsidies is Energy Future Holdings, but the struggling Texas utility (now in Chapter 11 bankruptcy) is owned by private equity firms led by KKR, whose other portfolio companies have received $55 million in subsidies.

We have no idea whether advisory council members reviewed the report before it was published, but one thing that may have placated them is that the document bends over backward to avoid criticizing companies that accept subsidies. Although the term “cronyism” implies some kind of improper collusion, the ALEC authors claim that taking subsidies should not be viewed as tax avoidance. “Businesses should generally not be vilified or blamed for tax cronyism,” they argue. “The key issue rests with the policymakers who introduce these laws.” The ALEC authors even go so far as to depict targeted tax breaks as a form of “central economic planning.”

We find ALEC’s analysis here historically ill-informed and refer the authors to Jobs Scam for a primer on how corporations and their site location consultants drive the subsidy-industrial complex. Given that history, it is ridiculous to equate the haphazard nature of subsidy policies with any kind of planning.

Although ALEC wants to blame poor policymaking for tax cronyism, the report also fails to acknowledge that big subsidy giveaways are common in states celebrated in the Rich States, Poor States reports written for ALEC by the unreconstructed supply-sider Arthur Laffer. For example, Utah, which Laffer ranks first in terms of its economic outlook and second in economic performance, has given generous packages to companies such as Procter & Gamble, Goldman Sachs, eBay and Adobe Systems.

Besides the hypocrisy and lack of historical awareness, ALEC’s report has another fundamental problem (akin to that of other conservatives such as those at the Mercatus Center): their alternative to “tax cronyism” or targeted corporate tax giveaways are generalized corporate tax giveaways. That is, after decades of declining corporate tax rates and corporate contributions to state treasuries, they want big business to pay even less of a fair share of the cost of public services.

At Good Jobs First, subsidy reform is intended to improve economic conditions for working families and give small businesses a fairer shake; it isn’t about reducing tax rates for corporations like those bankrolling ALEC.

Subsidizing Corporate Offenders

June 5, 2014

moneybagsontherunIt’s been clear for a long time now that, despite recurring calls to get tough on corporate crime, companies can essentially buy their way out of legal entanglements. In most cases this has come about through the U.S. Justice Department’s willingness to offer companies deferred prosecution agreements. The recent Credit Suisse guilty plea, which is not doing much to impair the bank’s operations, shows that big companies can even go about their business with a criminal conviction.

That’s not the worst of it. It turns out that many of these corporate offenders have received tax breaks and other forms of financial assistance from state and local governments around the country. This does not come as a complete surprise, but it is now possible to quantify the extent to which this unfortunate practice is taking place.

This estimate comes from mashing up two datasets. The first is the Subsidy Tracker I and my colleagues at Good Jobs First have compiled. In recent months we have enhanced the database by matching many of the individual entries to their corporate parents. For 1,294 large companies we now have summary pages that provide a full picture of the subsidies they and their subsidiaries have received.

The other data source is a list of the companies that have entered into deferred-prosecution and non-prosecution agreements with the Justice Department to settle a variety of criminal charges. (Although I refer to these firms as corporate miscreants or offenders, it must be pointed out that they were never formally convicted.)

The list appeared in the May 26, 2014 issue (print version only) of Russell Mokhiber’s excellent Corporate Crime Reporter. Mokhiber obtained it from University of Virginia Law Professor Brandon Garrett, author of a forthcoming book on corporate crime prosecution, and used it for an article showing that the bulk of those agreements are negotiated by a small number of law firms.

I took the liberty of using the list for another purpose: determining how many of the companies also appear in Subsidy Tracker. The results are striking: more than half of the miscreants (146 of 269, or 54 percent) have received state and local subsidies. These include cases in which the awards went to the firm’s parent or a “sibling” firm.

Even more remarkable are the dollar amounts involved. The total value of the awards comes to more than $25 billion. A large portion of that total ($13 billion) comes from a single company — Boeing, which is not only the largest recipient of subsidies among corporate miscreants but is also the largest recipient among all firms. Boeing made the Justice Department list by virtue of a 2006 non-prosecution agreement under which it paid $615 million to settle criminal and civil charges that it improperly used competitors’ information to procure contracts for launch services worth billions of dollars from the U.S. Air Force and NASA.

To be fair, I should point out that not all the subsidies came after that case was announced. In the period since 2006, Boeing has received “only” about $9.8 billion.

The other biggest subsidy recipients on the list are as follows:

  • Fiat (parent of Chrysler): $2.1 billion
  • Royal Dutch Shell (parent of Shell Nigeria): $2.0 billion
  • Toyota: $1.1 billion
  • Google: $751 million
  • JPMorgan Chase: $653 million
  • Daimler: $545 million
  • Sears: $536 million

Altogether, there are 26 parents on the DOJ list that have received $100 million or more in subsidies. As with Boeing’s $13 billion figure, the amounts for many of the companies include subsidies received before as well as after their settlement.

These results suggest two conclusions. The first is that state and local governments might want to pay more attention to the legal record of the companies to which they award large subsidy packages. A company that ran afoul of federal law might not be punctilious about living up to its job-creation commitments.

More broadly, the ability of companies caught up in criminal cases to go on getting subsidies suggests that there is insufficient stigma attached to involvement in such cases. If companies know that they can not only avoid serious punishment but still qualify for rewards such as tax breaks and cash grants, they are more likely to give in to temptations such as fraud, bribery, tax evasion, price-fixing and the like. Without real deterrents, the corporate crime wave will continue.

Reposted from the Dirt Diggers Digest.

The Latest from Subsidy Tracker

May 28, 2014

detectiveEarlier this year, my colleagues and I at Good Jobs First introduced a major overhaul of our Subsidy Tracker database. The big change in Tracker 2.0 was the addition of parent company information for entries representing three-quarters of the total dollar value of the dataset. This allowed us to document for the first time the outsized share of subsidy awards received by big business.

In the past three months we have been enhancing the enhancements. We have increased from 965 to 1,294 the number of matched parent companies, which together are linked to more than 31,000 individual awards with a total value of more than $113 billion. Our parent coverage now extends to the full Fortune 1000 as well as the Fortune Global 500, the Forbes list of the largest privately held companies, the Private Equity International list of the top 50 private equity firms (and their portfolio companies) and the Uniworld list of the 300 largest foreign firms doing business in the United States.

Each parent company has its own summary page, which can be accessed through a drop-down menu at the top of the Tracker search form. These pages include cumulative totals for the subsidies received by the company and all its units and subsidiaries; the states in which it has received the most awards; and a list of all the individual awards that went into those totals. Those lists are sortable and downloadable, and they include links to pages with details on the individual entries.

Since the release of 2.0 we have added a variety of new features to the parent summary pages, including indications of the time period covered by the data and the following identifying information: the company’s ownership structure, the location of its headquarters and its primary industry group. (See below for a summary of what these identifiers show.) We have also begun to add other key info sources on the companies, beginning with links (where available) to the firms’ CTJ-ITEP Tax Dodgers pages and to our Corporate Rap Sheets.

Along with the parent pages, we’ve created summary pages for each of the states and the District of Columbia. They show cumulative totals, the parent companies with the most awards and a sortable and downloadable list of all the listings for the state. The top states in terms of cumulative disclosed subsidy awards are New York ($21 billion), Washington ($13 billion) and Michigan ($10 billion).

We have not neglected the task of gathering new data. Led by my colleague Kasia Tarczynska, our effort to find new online and unpublished data has during these past three months resulted in 13,000 new listings, bringing our total to 258,000. Kasia is getting ready to implement a plan for systematically filing FOIA requests for missing data with state and key local agencies.

NEW CUMULATIVE SUMMARY DATA FOR SUBSIDY TRACKER PARENT COMPANIES

Top Parent Companies:

  • Boeing: $13.2 billion
  • Alcoa: $5.6 billion
  • Intel: $3.9 billion
  • General Motors: $3.6 billion
  • Ford Motor: $2.5 billion

Top Industry Groups:

  • Aerospace & military contracting: $14.3 billion
  • Motor vehicles: $13.9 billion
  • Steel & other metals: $8.2 billion
  • Semiconductors: $5.7 billion
  • Oil & gas: $5.3 billion

Top States Based on the Location of Parent Company Headquarters:

  • Illinois: $16.2 billion
  • New York: $13.6 billion
  • Michigan: $8.4 billion
  • California: $8.0 billion
  • Texas: $4.5 billion

Foreign Countries Whose Companies have Received the Most Subsidies for their U.S. Affiliates:

  • Japan: $5.3 billion
  • Germany: $2.4 billion
  • Netherlands: $2.2 billion
  • Italy: $2.1 billion
  • Canada: $1.8 billion

Subsidy Tracker 2.0 has a wealth of new information. Check it out today.

Comparing State Pension Costs to Corporate Subsidies and Tax Breaks

January 30, 2014

PUTTING PENSION COSTS IN CONTEXT: NEW REPORT SHOWS CORPORATE TAX SUBSIDIES AND LOOPHOLES OFTEN EXCEED STATE RETIREMENT COSTS

Attacks on Pensions, Safety Net Programs, Distract from Corporate Giveaways that Exacerbate Economic Inequality

Washington D.C., January 30, 2014 — State lawmakers who are considering drastic cuts to the retirement benefits of state workers are simultaneously giving away billions of dollars in corporate tax subsidies and loopholes, often in amounts far exceeding the cost of pensions, according to a new report.

Putting State Pension Costs in Context by Good Jobs First examines 10 states where elected officials are threatening to undermine retirement security by cutting the pension benefits of their teachers, firefighters, police officers, and hundreds of thousands of other public employees.  The states included in the report are: Arizona; California; Colorado; Florida; Illinois; Louisiana; Michigan; Missouri; Oklahoma; and Pennsylvania.

The findings show that in each state, the revenue lost to corporations through loopholes and tax breaks outpaces the current cost of pension benefits to state employees.

In states across the country, politicians are attempting to solve the budget woes caused by Wall Street and the Great Recession by cutting the pension benefits of public employees,” said Philip Mattera, Research Director of Good Jobs First. “It is often stated that budgets are a matter of priorities.  And our research shows that corporate interests are generally prioritized over teachers, firefighters, police officers, and thousands of other employees who dedicate their lives to public service.”

The average retirement for a member of the Louisiana State Retirement fund is $19,000 a year. Yet, Louisiana gives away about $1.8 billion a year to corporations through corporate subsidies and tax loopholes—totaling about five times the annual pension cost for state workers.

Pennsylvania loses nearly $4 billion annually as a result of corporate subsidies and loopholes—more than two and half times the cost of public pensions. Pennsylvania’s state pensions average a modest $24,000 a year. In Michigan, corporations also enjoy about $1.8 billion in subsidies and tax breaks – more than three times the cost of meeting the state’s commitment to retirees.   The list goes on.

These ten states were chosen for analysis because their legislatures are underfunding pensions or elected officials are threatening to cut pension benefits. Actuarial analysis provided the normal cost of funding pensions on a yearly basis, which excludes the costs of making up for past underfunding.  Data was derived by examining the latest state tax expenditure reports, state budget documents, and reports by state tax and budget watchdog groups.

“As a matter of honest accounting and fair budgeting, state leaders should examine all forms of spending before they single out pensions or any other expense,” said Mattera. “Corporate tax breaks and loopholes are often poorly understood and little-noticed because they do not get debated as appropriations, nor do they often get sunsetted or audited. But over time they add up to hundreds of millions, or even billions, of dollars per year.”

Good Jobs First is a non-profit, non-partisan research center focusing on economic development accountability. It is based in Washington, DC.

Privatized State Development Agencies Create Scandals Rather than Jobs

October 23, 2013

scandalnotjobs_box

Report: Privatized State Development Agencies Create Scandals Instead of Jobs

Analysis of Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, and Wisconsin gives other states roadmaps to avoid

Washington D.C. – Three years ago, newly elected governors in several states decided to outsource economic development functions to “public-private partnerships” (PPPs). Together with a handful of other states’ PPPs, these experiments in privatization have, by and large, become costly failures characterized by misuse of taxpayer funds, conflicts of interest, excessive executive pay and bonuses, questionable subsidy awards, exaggerated job-creation claims, lack of public disclosure of key records, and resistance to basic oversight.

Those are the cautionary conclusions of a study issued today by Good Jobs First, a non-profit, non-partisan research center.  The report looks at eight states with existing PPPs and one more proposed.  “Creating Scandals Instead of Jobs: The Failures of Privatized State Economic Development Agencies” is available at www.goodjobsfirst.org/scandalsnotjobs. It is a follow-up to a study issued in February 2011 when four states moved to create new PPPs.

“Things have gotten demonstrably worse in the past three years. We conclude that privatizing a state development agency is an inherently corrupting move that states should avoid or repeal,” said Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First and lead author of the study. “Taxpayers are best served by experienced public-agency employees who are fully covered by ethics and conflicts laws, open records acts, and oversight by auditors and legislators.”

“In 2007 we consolidated Wisconsin’s economic development efforts, including terminating a state-created private economic development entity, Forward Wisconsin, in order to reduce political favoritism and misuse of public funds,” said State Senator Mark Miller. “Unfortunately we reverted to old-style cronyism in 2011 with the creation of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation which has been plagued with predictable ethics improprieties and gross mismanagement.”

“Enterprise Florida is our state’s most glaring example of cronyism and institutional corruption,” said Dan Krassner, executive director of the nonpartisan government watchdog group Integrity Florida.  “The organization engages in pay to play: it sells seats on its board to corporations for $50,000 and then gives away taxpayer-funded subsidies and vendor contracts to them in return.”

“Public dollars should be controlled by accountable and transparent public agencies, not handed off to private interests with looser standards and less oversight,” said Donald Cohen, executive director of In the Public Interest.

The report finds that:

  • Enterprise Florida faced new questions about shortfalls in the job creation performance of the companies it has recruited. There have also been controversies over a performance bonus paid to its CEO and subsidies awarded to companies represented on its board.
  • The first chief executive of the Arizona Commerce Authority was given a three-year compensation package worth $1 million, and even though he resigned after a year he received a $60,000 privately-funded bonus.
  • The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) was accused of spending millions of dollars in funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development without legal authority, failed to track past-due loans, and hired an executive who owed the state a large amount of back taxes.
  • JobsOhio received a large transfer of state monies about which the legislature was not informed, intermingled public and private monies, refused to name its private donors, and then won legal exemption from review of its finances by the state auditor.
  • The Indiana Economic Development Corporation has faced continuing criticism over its job creation claims. Triggered by tenacious investigative reporting by Indianapolis TV station WTHR, a state audit found that more than 40 percent of the jobs promised by companies described by IEDC as “economic successes” had never materialized. IEDC was also rocked by allegations that its representative to China solicited bribes from companies.
  • The Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation is still litigating the biggest economic development scandal in Rhode Island history: its $75 million loan to the now-bankrupt 38 Studios.

Based on this persistent pattern of abuses, the report concludes that the privatization of economic development agency functions is an inherently corrupting action that states should avoid or repeal. With the “economic war among the states” already dominated by corporate interests and bargaining dynamics made worse by a long-term drop in job-creation deals, taxpayers are best served by experienced public-agency employees who are fully covered by ethics and conflicts laws, open records acts, and oversight by auditors and legislators.

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Editor’s note: Good Jobs First is a non-profit, non-partisan research center founded in 1998 and based in Washington, DC. In the Public Interest is a comprehensive resource center on privatization and responsible contracting. www.inthepublicinterest.org

The Affordable Care Act’s Employer Penalty Gap

September 3, 2013

walmart_jwj_subsidiesAlong with the scandalous number of the uninsured, one of the biggest healthcare outrages in the United States has been the ability of large companies employing low-wage workers to avoid providing decent group coverage, letting those employees enroll instead in public programs such as Medicaid.

Those programs were meant for poor people not in the labor force or those working for marginal employers.  In the absence of any legal obligation to provide workplace coverage, giant corporations such as Wal-Mart exploit the public programs and thus shift costs onto taxpayers. A recently updated report by the Democratic staff of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce estimates that the workforce of a typical Wal-Mart Supercenter costs taxpayers some $250,000 a year in Medicaid costs.

One might think this is going to change under the Affordable Care Act that is gradually taking effect. While the law contains a requirement for individuals to have coverage, there is no real employer mandate to provide that coverage to workers. Instead, the ACA imposes penalties on certain employers for failing to provide affordable and inadequate coverage. Yet there are no fines levied when a boss pushes a worker onto the Medicaid rolls.

In fact, the ACA’s provisions encouraging states to expanded Medicaid coverage, while a good thing for the uninsured, will make it easier for low-wage employers both to avoid providing group coverage and to escape penalties for that refusal. This is worth keeping in mind when businesses complain about the supposedly onerous employer penalties in the ACA—penalties whose implementation the Obama Administration announced in July will be delayed for a year.

The ACA’s employer penalties have a very narrow scope. They will apply only when an employee of a firm with 50 or more full-time workers (the law’s definition of a “large” employer) seeks non-group coverage from an insurance company through one of the new state Exchanges and the employee qualifies for a premium or cost-sharing subsidy based on his or her household income. Those individual subsidies are available only for workers whose household income is between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty line (FPL) for their family size and whose employer either fails to provide any group coverage or provides coverage that is unaffordable or inadequate.

This means that employers of people earning less than the FPL or more than 400 percent of the FPL face absolutely no risk of penalties for failing to provide decent coverage, while the workers in those income ranges are denied subsidies from the Exchanges. Those earning less than the FPL may or may not be eligible for Medicaid, depending on the state. Those earning more than 400 percent of the FPL are not eligible for Medicaid in any state.

Penalties may also not apply when “large” employers fail to provide affordable coverage to those in the 100-400 percent of FPL range. That’s because some of those workers will for the first time qualify for Medicaid if they live in a state that accepts the optional federal incentives in the ACA for expanding Medicaid eligibility.

Some concern has been expressed about the potential coverage gap for those low-income families which are not eligible either for an Exchange subsidy or Medicaid, but much less attention has been paid to what amounts to an employer penalty gap.

A primary aim of the ACA is to reduce the ranks of the uninsured, but the rejection of a single-payer system means that workplace-based coverage needs to be strengthened. That should have meant a rigorous employer mandate. Instead, the ACA went with a pay-or-play system whose penalties turn out to be full of holes. Companies such as Wal-Mart may thus find it easy to continue shifting healthcare costs onto the public.

At the state level, one of ways activists have sought to fight such cost-shifting has been to push for disclosure of data showing which companies account for the most enrollees in Medicaid and other public plans. Such lists have been published for about half the states, with Wal-Mart or McDonald’s typically appearing at the top.

The ACA will require “large” employers to file reports indicating whether they provide group coverage, but it appears these reports will not be made public. Not only does the ACA fail to impose a real employer mandate; it also misses an opportunity to shame those freeloading employers which expect taxpayers to pick up the tab for their failure to provide decent coverage to their workers.

Note: This an a shortened version of a piece originally posted in the Dirt Diggers Digest.

Giant Job Subsidy Packages Grow More Common and Costly

June 19, 2013

moneybagsWashington, DC, June 19, 2013 — In recent years, state and local governments have been awarding giant economic development subsidy packages to corporations more frequently than ever before. The packages frequently reach nine and even ten figures, and the cost per job averages $456,000 and often exceeds $1 million.

These are the findings of Megadeals, a report released today by Good Jobs First, a non-profit resource center based in Washington, DC.

“These subsidy awards are getting out of control,” said Philip Mattera, research director of Good Jobs First and principal author of the report. “Huge packages that used to be reserved for ‘trophy’ projects creating large numbers of jobs are now being given away more routinely.”

In a painstaking review using hundreds of sources, Good Jobs First identifies 240 “megadeals,” or subsidy awards with a total state and local cost of $75 million or more each. The cumulative cost of these deals is more than $64 billion.

The number of such deals and their costs are rising: since 2008, the average frequency of megadeals per year has doubled (compared to the previous decade) and their aggregate annual cost has roughly doubled as well, averaging around $5 billion. For those deals where job projections were available, the average cost per job is $456,000.

Michigan has the most megadeals, with 29, followed by New York with 23; Ohio and Texas with a dozen each; Louisiana and Tennessee with 11 each; and Alabama, Kentucky and New Jersey with 10 each. Forty states plus the District of Columbia have done at least one megadeal.

In dollar terms, New York is spending the most, with megadeals totaling $11.4 billion. Next is Michigan with $7.1 billion, followed by five states in the $3 billion range: Oregon, New Mexico, Washington, Louisiana, and Texas.

“Despite their high costs, some of the deals involve little if any new-job creation,” said Good Jobs First executive director Greg LeRoy. “Some are instances of job blackmail, in which a company threatens to move and gets paid to stay put. Others involve interstate job piracy, in which a company gets subsidies to move existing jobs across a state border, sometimes within the same metropolitan area.”

Megadeals have been awarded to many of the largest and best known companies based in the United States as well as foreign ones doing business here, including: every large domestic automaker and all of the foreign auto producers with appreciable U.S. sales; oil giants such as Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell; aerospace leaders Boeing and Airbus; banks such as Citigroup and Goldman Sachs; media companies such as Walt Disney and its subsidiary ESPN; retailers such as Sears and Cabela’s; old-line industrials such as General Electric and Dow Chemical; and tech leaders such as Amazon.com, Apple, Intel and Samsung.

The most expensive single listing is a 30-year discounted-electricity deal worth an estimated $5.6 billion given to aluminum producer Alcoa by the New York Power Authority. Taking all of a company’s megadeals into account, Alcoa is at the top with its single $5.6 billion deal, followed by Boeing (four deals worth a total of $4.4 billion), Intel (six deals worth $3.6 billion), General Motors (11 deals worth $2.7 billion), Ford Motor (9 deals worth $2.1 billion), Nike (1 deal worth $2 billion) and Nissan (four deals worth $1.8 billion).

Fifty-six megadeals went to corporations with parents based outside the United States and seven more went to joint ventures of domestic and foreign companies.

The megadeals list is a new enhancement of Good Jobs First’s Subsidy Tracker database, the first online compilation of company-specific data on economic development deals from around the country.

Until now, the content of Subsidy Tracker has consisted exclusively of official disclosure data provided by state and local governments. However, many large deals pre-dated disclosure and many recent ones are missing from the official lists because of gaps in state and local transparency practices. To overcome those constraints, Good Jobs First went back and assembled information on large deals using a wider variety of sources. The resulting list of megadeals has been incorporated into Subsidy Tracker.

In a policy sidebar, the study points out that the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) has been long-negligent in failing to promulgate regulations for how state and local governments should account for tax-based economic development expenditures.  If GASB were to finally promulgate such regulations—covering both programs and deals—taxpayers would have standardized, comparable statistics about megadeals and could better weigh their costs and benefits.

Subsidizing Union Avoidance at Wal-Mart and Nissan

June 7, 2013

walmart-strike-300x168Most Americans have been made to believe that they have no stake in private sector labor issues. Unions, we are told, are irrelevant to the working life of the vast majority of the population, whose economic fate is supposedly being determined solely by their employers or by individual skills in maneuvering through the labor market.

This narrative, however, is being challenged by organizing campaigns that are taking on two giant corporations – Wal-Mart and Nissan – and showing that collective action is not defunct. And two reports related to the campaigns show that not only the workers involved, but also taxpayers in general, have a stake in their outcome.

For the past 30 years, Wal-Mart has fought bitterly against the efforts of its employees to organize for better pay and benefits. It showed no hesitation in firing workers who supported union drives and routinely closed down operations where successful representation elections were held.

A new wave of non-traditional organizing by Making Change at Walmart and OUR Walmart has revived the prospects for change at the giant retailer. Strikes have become a frequent occurrence at Wal-Mart stores in recent weeks, and large numbers of Wal-Mart workers and their supporters have been converging on Bentonville, Arkansas to make their voices heard at the company’s annual meeting.

A recent report by the Democratic staff of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce is a reminder that taxpayers are put in a position of subsidizing the low wages and poor benefits that the Wal-Mart campaigners are protesting. The study, which updates a 2004 report by the committee, reviews the hidden taxpayer costs stemming from the fact that many Wal-Mart workers have no choice but to use social safety net programs—such as Medicaid, Section 8 Housing, food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit—that were designed for individuals not in the labor force or those working for small companies that failed to provide decent compensation, not a leviathan with $17 billion in annual profits.

The Democratic staff report estimates that today the workers in a typical Wal-Mart Supercenter (Wisconsin is used as the example) make use of programs that cost taxpayers at least $904,542 a year and possibly as much as $1.7 million. Since Wal-Mart has more than 3,000 Supercenters in the U.S., plus hundreds of other types of stores, those costs run into the billions.

Nissan has been following in Wal-Mart’s footsteps in Mississippi, where it opened a large assembly plant a decade ago. The plant brought several thousand direct jobs to the state, but the problem is that many of the jobs are substandard. The company makes extensive use of temps, who are currently paid only about $12 an hour.

In response to the use of temps as well as issues concerning the conditions faced by regular employees, Nissan workers have been organizing themselves with the help of the United Auto Workers. Rather than accepting labor representation, as it does in numerous other countries, Nissan is seeking to intimidate workers using the usual toolbox of union avoidance techniques such as threats and bombarding workers with anti-union propaganda.  The workers, however, have been bolstered by strong community support from groups such as the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan.

My colleagues and I at Good Jobs First recently issued a report commissioned by the UAW documenting the extent to which Nissan has enjoyed lavish tax breaks and other financial assistance from state and local government agencies. We found that the subsidies, which were originally estimated at around $300 million when the company first came to the state in 2000, have mushroomed to the point that they could be worth some $1.3 billion. That works out to some $290,000 per job. Noting the over-dependence on temps, we state that Mississippi taxpayers are paying “premium amounts for jobs that in many cases are far from premium.”

Although it was outside the scope of our report, it is clear that the Nissan temps, like the Wal-Mart workers, are also generating hidden taxpayer costs through their use of safety net programs. And we have previously documented that Wal-Mart frequently gets the kind of economic development subsidies Nissan is enjoying in Mississippi.

Whether through hidden taxpayer costs or job subsidies, the public is frequently put in the position of aiding companies like Wal-Mart and Nissan that disregard labor rights while failing to pay their fair share of the cost of government. Perhaps the interests of taxpayers and workers are not so different after all.

Reposted from the Dirt Diggers Digest

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Examining Local Subsidy Transparency

May 30, 2013

Study: Big Cities and Counties Fail to Disclose Costly Job Subsidies

Washington, DC, May 30, 2013 — Two-thirds of the economic development subsidy programs run by the nation’s largest cities and counties do not use the web to report which companies are receiving the tax breaks and other forms of financial assistance. Among the third of programs that do practice online transparency, most do so poorly, failing to disclose the dollar value of the subsidies. An even smaller number reveal key outcomes such as how many jobs were created.

These are the central findings of a report released today by Good Jobs First, a Washington, DC-based non-profit research center on economic development accountability. The report, Show Us the Local Subsidies, is available on the Good Jobs First website at http://www.goodjobsfirst.org/localsubsidies.

“While a handful of cities enable taxpayers to see the costs and benefits of every deal, we were disappointed by the poor state of transparency in most major localities,” said Leigh McIlvaine, a research analyst at Good Jobs First and principal author of the report. “Taxpayers in those cities and counties deserve better.”

The report is part of an ongoing effort by Good Jobs First to track and promote online transparency of economic development subsidies awarded to businesses for job creation and/or retention. It is a companion to our 2010 study Show Us the Subsidies, which graded online disclosure practices by state programs. (Local governments account for about half of the $70 billion spent annually by states and cities for economic development.)

“Most major localities are far behind state governments when it comes to job-subsidy transparency,” said Good Jobs First executive director Greg LeRoy. “We hope that our new report will inspire them to improve their disclosure practices.”

Show Us the Local Subsidies looks at transparency in the country’s 25 most populous cities and 25 most populous counties. Thirty-six of those localities have locally-controlled economic development subsidy programs. One or two major programs in each were graded for a total universe of 64. Key findings:

  • Among those 64 programs, only 21 (located in 16 jurisdictions) report recipient company names online.
  • Even among those programs that do disclose, costs and benefits are mostly still missing. Only 10 of the 21 programs report the dollar value of the subsidies initially awarded, and only 6 report actual disbursements. Only 4 programs report jobs actually created, and only 9 report other outcomes such as wages.
  • The best disclosure practices are in: Memphis/Shelby County, Tennessee; New York City; Austin, Texas; and Chicago. These jurisdictions stand out for company-specific data with costs, benefits and more.
  • Among the 20 large localities still failing to disclose are Broward County (Florida), Charlotte, Cook County (Illinois), Dallas, Harris County (Texas), Los Angeles (both city and county), Miami-Dade County (Florida), Philadelphia, and San Francisco.

Good Jobs First evaluated the 21 programs with disclosure on a scale of 0 to 100 based on their inclusion of: basic recipient information; subsidy commitments; subsidy outcomes ; and user-friendliness and accessibility. Three “bonus” categories worth up to 15 additional points include: the span of disclosure years; reporting of outcomes in addition to job creation; and the use of maps to demonstrate the location of subsidized projects.

“Taxpayers have a right to know where their investments in job creation went and whether they are paying off,” McIlvaine said. “Clearly, localities can disclose such basic information, and do so in a comprehensive, intuitive, and accessible manner by embracing the best practices we document here.”

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Bosses for Buses

May 29, 2013

For Release Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Contact: Greg LeRoy 202-232-1616 x 211

“Bosses for Buses”
Study: Employer Support for Transit is Surging Locally but Fractured Nationally

Washington, DC—American employers are organizing and winning better public transportation in many metro areas. Major employers such as universities and hospitals and coalitions of businesses help explain why state and local ballot initiatives for transit consistently win more than 70 percent of the time.

Yet at the national level, there is not a unified corporate voice for transit; this has been especially evident during three recent federal debates that affected this vital public service. Instead, there are disparate voices speaking only to selected aspects of transit.

Local business coalitions—united by geography—are mostly powered by companies that depend on transit, whereas national advocacy is dominated by companies that make a business selling to transit agencies. As well, there are competing priorities within public transportation circles, such capital budgets versus operating funds.

Those are the key conclusions in a major study released today by Good Jobs First cataloging the many kinds of businesses that support public transit and the diverse ways they express that support. “Bosses for Buses” is believed to be the most wide-ranging study ever published on the subject; it was released at a national tele-press conference and is available at http://www.goodjobsfirst.org/bossesforbuses.

“The remarkable local support for transit demonstrated by so many employers is truly heartening,” said Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First and lead author of the study. “But the lack of a unified corporate voice on federal transit issues is equally disheartening. It begs the big-picture question: when will the growing corporate consensus for transit outside the Beltway translate into stronger action inside the Beltway?”

The study finds most promising the formation and growth of business-led groups in specific metropolitan areas,  as well as some outstanding individual large employers—often “eds and meds,” or universities and hospitals. And every day, tens of thousands of employers subsidize transit use—or facilitate the use of pre-tax income for monthly transit fare cards or commuter van pools.

At the national level, many businesses that sell goods and services to transit agencies belong to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), the voice of big-city transit agencies. The study also describes how employers participate within the Community Transportation Association of America, the Association for Commuter Transportation, and Best Workplaces for Commuters.

Aspects of the 2009 federal stimulus, the belated 2012 reauthorization of the surface transportation act, and the big January 2013 federal income tax compromise all bore upon transit, yet none drew a unified corporate voice for transit service. Nor has there been corporate support for federal aid to shield transit operations from the catastrophic national wave of service cuts, fare hikes and route abandonments seen since 2008.

The study profiles outstanding networks and companies:

  • Washington University in St. Louis, which has anchored Citizens for Modern Transportation, a winning coalition, and has long promoted and subsidized transit use by its workforce and student body;
  • Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals of Cleveland, the city’s two largest employers, which led the successful campaign for the HealthLine, one of the nation’s most successful Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines;
  • Friends of Transit in the Phoenix metropolitan area, a winning spinoff of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, with its “Transit Means Business” campaign grooming the next generation of business leaders for transit;
  • The Baton Rouge General Medical Center, which joined with other employers and a faith-based community group to win a 2012 ballot initiative that will over time double the amount of bus service there;
  • Amalgamated Transit Union Local 726 on Staten Island, New York City, which organized riders and businesses to win dedicated bridge bus lanes, larger buses, and a fare cut that more than doubled ridership;
  • Move LA, a large business, labor and environmental coalition that has won legislation that will nearly double the size of Los Angeles County’s fixed-guideway transit system;
  • Ameriprise Financial, an investment services firm in Minneapolis that was the biggest early supporter of Metropass, enrolling 47 percent of its 6,000 downtown employees in the program’s first month;
  • Purple Line Now!, a business-backed coalition that is now winning a sorely needed arc-shaped light rail line connecting inner-ring suburbs and four subway “spokes” in the Maryland counties that straddle Washington, DC;
  • Transportation Management Association of Lake-Cook, a longstanding transportation demand management project with “Shuttle Bug” service linking corporate office parks and campuses north of Chicago with transit;
  • McCaffery Interests, a Chicago-based integrated development firm that specializes in large, mixed-use transit-oriented development (TOD) projects;
  • United Streetcar of Clackamas, Oregon, rebirthing the long-lost streetcar manufacturing industry in the United States with good union jobs and high domestic U.S. content; and
  • “Third-party administrators” such as WageWorks and Edenred that manage the business of collecting pre-tax income and providing monthly transit pass cards. This obscure niche industry has recently undergone a great deal of consolidation, and with the Association for Commuter Transportation, it advocates to ensure that federal tax benefits for transit are at parity with those for parking.

In sum, the study finds corporate support for transit in America to be remarkably broad and diverse, but also highly fragmented. Just when market forces and energy policy beg for a unified national employer voice for growing and improving transit service, what we find instead are disparate voices speaking only to selected transit issues.

“Public transit is far too important to be left only to those companies that make their business selling to transit agencies,” concluded LeRoy. “Far more numerous—and deserving to be heard—are those employers that depend on transit for their workforces. When will they organize nationally?”

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