Archive for the ‘Climate Issues’ Category

Terms of Engagement After Sandy

November 12, 2012

Photo credit – Eliud Echevarria: FEMA News Photo.

Sandy and the surges of water that accompanied her didn’t discriminate in terms of which lives, homes and businesses they devastated. People of all income levels and companies of all sizes were hard hit. Thousands in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut remain without power, hampering the relief effort. All of this is to say: there’s a long road ahead and communities must work with decision-makers now to create a plan for allocating reconstruction financial resources.

After past disasters such as the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina, Congress created federal assistance programs that became dominated by those that needed it least: large corporations and luxury housing developers. It’s safe to assume these interests, the typical beneficiaries of “disaster capitalism,” are trying to influence similar legislation after Sandy.

Post-September 11, 2001 federal resources helped firms that already had vast resources—such as Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley—or “small businesses” like boutique brokerage houses and law firms (see Good Jobs New York’s Database of Deals for more information). As recently reported by our Good Jobs First colleagues, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, most of Louisiana’s allocation of the federal Gulf Opportunity Zone Bonds went to giant petrochemical companies not located in the hardest hit areas.

Here are some suggestions on how to do it right this time:

Do help small businesses get back on their feet quickly with a minimum of red tape. This includes helping them deal with private insurance carriers. Provide technical assistance that helps them firm up their operations by making them more sustainable.

Don’t prioritize luxury housing. Real estate interests made sure that 9/11 Liberty Bonds for Lower Manhattan had so few strings attached that they fueled housing for the fabulously wealthy and no new affordable housing construction.

Do focus on the needs of residents and small businesses most affected. Subsidies and/or other land-use policies shouldn’t displace existing or future generations from working and living in healthy, affordable neighborhoods. Private Activity Bonds after Hurricane Katrina were available to such a large geographic area that those who needed resources the most were left with little access to these funds.

Don’t ignore the needs of low-income workers. The 9/11 attacks had a huge direct impact on the financial sector of Lower Manhattan, but they also had a severe ripple effect on low-income workers; think of the baggage handlers at the airports, retail workers in Lower Manhattan or restaurant employees in Chinatown. Before Congress in 2007, Interfaith Worker Justice testified that after Katrina, loose regulations lowered wages and greatly undermined job standards.

Do subsidize projects that create high-road employment in both the construction industry and for permanent jobs. If recent reports are any indication, there are decades’ worth of employment opportunities. Many of the areas swept away or without heat and hot water are home to the poor and working class and between 70,000 and 80,000 residents of the New York City Housing Authority have been impacted by the storm. If these people don’t have decent -paying jobs to return to, it will have devastating long-term impacts on the economy

A message to Katrina victims from some community groups engaged in 9/11 rebuilding still rings true after Sandy: Officials at all levels of government, particularly in Congress, must consider four things before creating reconstruction subsidy programs:

1) Programs must be created using broadly democratic and transparent planning principles.

2) The allocation of funds must prioritize the creation of good jobs and building sustainable neighborhoods.

3) Programs must focus on fiscal stewardship by rebuilding infrastructure and public goods that will help existing businesses rebound and foster new ones.

4) Programs must incorporate clawback provisions to make sure that recipients (especially large firms) live up to those job-creation requirements. Some of the largest recipients of 9/11 funds had grants withheld or were forced to repay them after laying off workers.

Some might argue that these safeguards will slow the recovery from Sandy. We think the opposite is true: if loose rules allow big companies with the most lobbyists and consultants to hog the trough, the neighborhoods hit hardest will get short-changed and suffer longest.

UPDATED Hurricane Sandy Recovery Dollars–How to Make Them Count

November 2, 2012

Boat meets Metro-North Railroad in Westchester County, Photo credit: MTA Photos, Flicker

As New York, New Jersey and Connecticut begin the painstaking process of recovering from Hurricane Sandy, experts are estimating that the cost of cleaning up and rebuilding may top $50 billion. It’s likely— considering the dire state of roads, subways, bridges, commuter rail and other infrastructure–that the figure will escalate.

Using past disasters as an example, we can also expect that big business will seek to dominate the conversation and benefit most from the use of relief and rebuilding funds.

Billions of dollars in federal economic development aid was made available to New York after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Left out of much of the allocation and all of the decision-making were small businesses and low-income residents, especially in nearby areas of Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Much of the cash grants went to large business or wealthy “small” businesses like hedge funds and brokerages with few employees. Billions in Liberty Bonds went to building luxury housing in Lower Manhattan  and new headquarters for powerful financial firms like Goldman Sachs.  Good Jobs New York tracked these funds as part of our Reconstruction Watch project and in our Database of Deals.

How does this bode for an impending flood of rebuilding aid for the area? The answer is good and bad. Technology could be a great democratizer, and opportunities to educate taxpayers about proposals and get feedback are widely available. While acknowledging the existence of the digital divide, it has lessened dramatically since 9/11. Town halls, literal and virtual, are more accessible, (expect opinionated New Yorkers to chime in loudly once electricity is back online).  The bad part is that powerful business interests will be using their influence with policymakers to set the agenda while the rest of us are still preoccupied with recovering from the storm.

This week New York City announced two Hurricane Sandy recovery programs. A loan program capped at $10,000 for small firms and tax breaks for large firms spending more than half a million dollars on rebuilding. There are also “swing” spaces available in Brooklyn and The Bronx for displaced firms. Right out of the box, it looks like little has changed: small firms offered more debt and big firms with big checkbooks get tax breaks.

UPDATED Sunday, November 4: The New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) alerted us to the following:

We will update this post as new details emerge. For more information and how to apply for these programs or to help visit the EDC’s Back to Business webpage.

Keeping in mind that these programs will most likely evolve and new ones created, we urge officials to use this tragic storm to make accountability, equity and transparency central to rebuilding our communities:

  • Prioritize small businesses over giant ones.
  • Hold public hearings and allow citizens to help shape how funds will be allocated.
  • Post data on the web about which companies are receiving aid, whether there are any conditions on that assistance and whether those conditions are met.
  • Use resources to leverage high-road job standards (good wages and benefits).
  • Require funds for rebuilding to be sustainable for the environment and for future storms.  Wise public investment now will pay off in the future.
  • Include stringent work-safety rules.
  • Include clawback – money-back guarantee – provisions. This is especially important when it comes to large firms, which often make extravagant job-creation promises and then fall short.
  • Existing transparency practices should be maintained, or even improved, for storm-related subsidies.

The allocation of discretionary economic subsidies has become more transparent in New York City in recent years (a fuller explanation is here), yet policies that include democratic planning principles is badly lacking in New York City and many surrounding areas. There is a long road of rebuilding ahead and public funds must be used efficiently. To help ensure this, leaders must bring community members to the table while decisions are being made.

If history is any gauge, the interests of big business have already landed on the table of decision makers. But there’s still time to create a future that gives priority to the creation of good jobs for people that need them and the rebuilding of sound infrastructure for all.

Shell “Cracks” Pennsylvania’s Tax Code

July 3, 2012

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.

The Recovery Act: The Transparency Gift that Keeps on Giving

February 18, 2011

Largely lost in the partisan bickering over the stimulus has been the law’s enormous positive impact on improving government transparency. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) is not just the most transparent federal spending bill in U.S. history—the changes it pioneered will endure even after the stimulus winds down.

By now, many curious Americans have explored spending and job-creation on ARRA projects in their communities at recovery.gov. About 35 percent of ARRA funding is revealed there: every grant, loan and contract. And the reporting extends beyond the primary recipient one level down to sub-recipients. But few people noticed that the Office of Management and Budget applied that extended reporting to the main federal disclosure website USAspending.gov (created thanks to a bill championed by then-Senator Obama).

Even fewer people noticed that the quality of ARRA data improved greatly in October 2010: we can now trace the money as it changes hands three times, instead of two, to sub-sub-recipients. For people concerned about companies tied to political contributions, offshoring of jobs, violations of workplace laws, etc., this deeper data is a potential gold mine for accountability.

In a little-noticed provision, the Recovery Act also required privately-held companies that do a large share of their business with the federal government to reveal the compensation of their five highest-paid executives. We blogged about this when the first round of data came out, revealing executive pay at the high-profile “Beltway Bandit” consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.

The Recovery Act has also enabled a side-by-side analysis of transportation spending—comparing job creation from highway-building versus public transportation—that was simply not possible before: apples-to-apples data did not exist. However, in early 2010 Smart Growth America, the United States Public Interest Research Group and the Center for Neighborhood Technology issued “What We Learned from the Stimulus,” finding that transit construction creates 84 percent more work-months than does highway-building. That reinforced our own 2003 finding, in “The Jobs Are Back in Town” that smart growth creates more work for Building Trades union members than does sprawl.

ARRA data and the mapping functions at recovery.gov have also encouraged more people to think about the geographic distribution of government spending (one of our pet peeves here at Good Jobs First). For example, the Voices of California Coalition examined ARRA spending by local jurisdiction and found many hard-hit communities getting little if any dollars and jobs.

In New York City, Community Voices Heard coupled ARRA jobs data along with data from the local public housing authority and its own door-to-door survey work to prove that, despite HUD Section 3 rules intended to ensure that public housing residents get job opportunities when their residences are rehabilitated, very few ARRA-funded jobs went to New York City Housing Authority residents. See “Bad Arithmetic.”

In Texas, the Center for Public Policy Priorities reported on that state’s performance on weatherization spending and Policy Matters Ohio mapped where clean energy jobs were created, finding they were “well targeted to areas of economic distress.”

Finally, we here at Good Jobs First have closely monitored how state governments have mirrored Uncle Sam’s ARRA transparency boost, publishing two “report card” studies on state government Recovery Act websites. Every single state put up such a website—even though they had no legal obligation to do so!

Of course, the states did have more obligations than anyone else to provide ARRA jobs data, since so much of the money flows through state agencies, making them primary recipients. So it was no exaggeration to call ARRA “a giant crash course on disclosure for state governments.” And lo and behold, in December 2010 when we revisited the issue of how well state governments disclose their own spending for job creation, we found the number of states naming names online had jumped from 24 to 37.

The Golden State Goes Greener

September 5, 2008

In California, an historic effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles by curbing sprawl will likely soon become law. Senate Bill No. 375 would compel local planning agencies to make planning choices that reduce vehicle miles traveled between residential areas and employment centers. The bill has passed both the California Assembly and Senate and currently awaits Governor Schwarzenegger’s approval. He is expected to sign.

SB 375 provides a mechanism for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the single largest producer, cars and light trucks. The bill’s broad coalition of supporters maintains that changes in land use and transportation policy must be made to achieve the state’s emissions reduction goals. To this end, SB 375 provides the California Air Resources Board (CARB), charged with reducing greenhouse gas emissions, with the authority to coordinate their efforts with metropolitan area transportation and land use planning.

The bill mandates that metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) include sustainability strategies in their community growth and transportation plans. It integrates housing, transportation, and climate change policies for all 17 MPOs in the state. The bill’s basics:

• Transportation planning: CARB will set regional greenhouse gas reduction targets in consultation with local governments. Those targets will be incorporated into each region’s long-term regional transportation plan.
• Housing planning: Each region’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) – the mandated process by which local jurisdictions address their fair share of regional housing needs – will be adjusted to become aligned with the land use plan in each region’s regional transportation plan. This adjustment will result in a “fair share” redistribution in which municipalities growing more jobs must also provide for a larger share of housing and is inclusive of affordable housing near municipalities with strong job growth.
• California Environmental Quality Act reform: Environmental review will create incentives to implement the strategy, especially for transit priority projects.
Green strings: SB 375 offers local governments regulatory and other incentives to encourage more compact new development and transportation alternatives. Local governments found to be in noncompliance with the new plans will be ineligible for state and federal funding.

In one efficient stroke, S.B. 375 mandates regional cooperation in several major policy areas. It compels regional governments to take steps toward correcting jobs-housing imbalances. It positions affordable housing near central business districts. Finally, it coordinates a shared responsibility strategy for greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Let’s hope that the passage of this legislation will serve as an example to other states seeking to rectify the host of problems caused by sprawling growth.

Who’s Subsidizing the Electric Car?

September 4, 2008

Chevrolet Volt prototype

Announcements by U.S. cities of subsidy packages for new automobile plants have become commonplace, but the most recent one is fraught with irony. Last week, the city council of Flint, Michigan voted unanimously to grant several tax breaks to General Motors in connection with the construction of a facility that will produce engines for the company’s planned plug-in electric car called the Chevrolet Volt, which is expected to start production in 2010.

The deal includes a 15-year, 50 percent abatement of real property taxes on a new 500,000 square-foot plant, a 100 percent abatement of taxes on personal property (i.e. equipment) and the designation of the site as a brownfield redevelopment, which would make the plant eligible for additional state tax breaks. Flint officials have not yet released an estimate of the total cost of the package.

Flint…General Motors…electric car…subsidies—where to begin?

The typical U.S. auto subsidy story involves a foreign carmaker getting a ton of money to construct a new plant on a greenfield site in a Southern state where unions are scarce. Think of Volkswagen’s recent announcement it will open a plant in Tennessee, which follows a long string of investments by companies such as Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Hyundai in states such as Alabama, Mississippi and Texas.

The GM/Flint story, by contrast, involves a U.S.-based company investing in an established industrial area of a Northern city where the United Auto Workers is well entrenched. It is unlikely that Flint’s subsidies will match what foreign carmakers receive in the South, though it is worth noting that GM apparently intends to seek additional aid from the state of Michigan, which would presumably cover not only the engine plant in Flint but also the plant in Detroit/Hamtramck where the Volt will be assembled. GM, along with Ford and Chrysler, is seeking federal assistance as well.

There are apparently mixed feelings about GM’s plans in Flint, which calls itself the “birthplace of General Motors” and has been celebrating the 100th anniversary of the company’s founding with public events such as a parade of vintage GM cars. Yet Flint has also suffered through waves of GM downsizing that have cost the city many thousands of jobs over the past quarter-century. The travails of the city were made famous in Michael Moore’s 1989 documentary film Roger & Me.

The Volt facility, however, will create no new jobs. It will be staffed by about 300 existing GM workers in Flint, whose positions will be counted as “retained.” Flint City Councilman Jim Ananich told the Detroit News: “A lot of people still feel…General Motors owes us more than just a couple hundred jobs.”

The same argument could be made about tax revenue. It is true that GM is hemorrhaging cash—it posted a loss of more than $15 billion for the second quarter of this year—but will the property tax savings from Flint do much to rectify that mess? The tax payments would mean much more to a struggling city than to the company’s bottom line. It’s clear that GM would find a way to build the engine plant even without the abatements.

At the same time, I can understand why Flint would be willing to pay to get a foothold in a forward-looking part of GM’s operations. Subsidizing a plant that will manufacture a component for a cleaner-energy vehicle is more palatable than sinking money into conventional auto production. It should be noted, however, that the Flint plant will make the “dirty” part of the Volt—the gasoline-powered engines that will extend the range of the car beyond the 40 miles allowed by the battery-driven electric motor.

One can only hope GM is serious about the Volt. After all, this is the company that had developed an electric car—the EV1—a decade ago and declined to market it (as documented in the 2006 film Who Killed the Electric Car?). It is also odd that Vice Chairman Robert Lutz, the GM executive credited with promoting the Volt, is reported to have said privately earlier this year that global warming is “a total crock.”

I’d be a lot happier if a company without GM’s tainted track record were pioneering a plug-in electric car and creating lots of new union jobs in unsubsidized plants, but perhaps that’s something to expect not in a documentary but rather in a science fiction film.

“Eco-towns” Ignite UK Debate

July 2, 2008

Plans by Britain’s Labour Government to build new “ecotowns” are sparking demonstrations outside Parliament and elsewhere in Britain.

The government wants to build a total of 10 “zero carbon-emission communities,” containing 5-15,000 housing units each, with five completed by 2016. Announcing the project last year, then Labour Housing Minister Yvette Cooper said the new towns would address the country’s urgent need for more affordable housing while cutting carbon emissions.

The developments were to be built on brownfields or surplus public land linked to public transportation, and would serve as a testbed of new environmental technologies for Britain’s emerging green industrial sector.

However, the list of 15 possible ecotown sites recently put forward by Cooper’s successor Caroline Flint has raised questions about the viability of the basic concept and the government’s credibility. Opponents believe the proposed towns represent unaccountable, developer-driven planning that replicates some of the worst features of suburban sprawl.

For example, critics say some ecotowns would be built not on brownfields but on greenfield sites chosen by developers, including some linked to Tesco, a major UK supermarket chain. According to the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the proposed “Pennbury” ecotown would even use up valuable farm land near an historic market town.

Although the proposed eco-developments are in theory subject to local review, some local officials are complaining about the increased demand for costly infrastructure they would create, and about the central government’s failure to take existing local development plans into account. One official attributes the selection of a site near Stratford-on-Avon—an area that already has adequate housing and employment— to the potentially lucrative sale of government land.

In response, ecotown supporters accuse opponents of “NIMBYism.” Prospective developers are also promising various inducements like free public transit, computer terminals with constantly updated transit information, and extensive bicycle paths.

But some people just think ecotowns are a bad idea. A Times of London editorialist recently wrote that “Zero-carbon house-building is about as likely as the odourless fart,” adding “The unremarkable truth is that car use is at its lowest where people live closest to city centres and are linked to them by public transport.”

The Labour government should perhaps consider the proposal by Sian Berry of Britain’s Green Party, who last year wrote that “green” industrial development should be based not on ecotowns but on hundreds of small locally-based eco-projects to retrofit and rehabilitate older housing stock in areas rich in public transit. Working with local officials and groups to “green” such areas would likely produce more, and more immediate, benefits than urbanizing additional greenfields in the name of ecology.

Putting Limits on Ethanol Subsidies

June 24, 2008

Over the years, the reputation of ethanol has swung from one extreme to another. For a long time, the corn-based fuel was seen as the quintessential special interest, with promoters such as Archer Daniels Midland soliciting support in Washington via lavish spending on campaign contributions and lobbying. In recent years, ethanol and other biofuels were suddenly recast as the silver bullet in fighting global warming and reducing dependence on oil from insecure foreign sources.

Now the image of ethanol is turning negative once again. The diversion of corn output into fuel production is being depicted as a major cause of escalating food prices that in some countries have sparked civil disturbances. At the same time, various scientific studies have concluded that biofuels may actually be doing more harm than good in the effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Many of ethanol’s true believers are not budging, however. This week the New York Times ran a front-page story describing how Sen. Barack Obama continues to act as a cheerleader for the fuel and maintains close ties with the ethanol industry, some of whose boosters (such as former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle) are playing key roles in his campaign.

Ethanol subsidies are not only a federal matter. More than a dozen states have jumped on the bandwagon, offering a variety of direct and indirect tax credits and other incentives for ethanol producers. Little is being done to turn off the spigot now that the drawbacks of biofuels are becoming more apparent.

One reason may be that some legislators have a very profound conflict of interest—they are themselves recipients of the subsidies. A recent Associated Press investigation found that in Missouri, for instance, about 20 present or former state legislators and other officials have received biofuel-related subsidies, included one who has reaped more than $200,000.

It’s time for politicians, both in Washington and in state capitals, to take a more balanced view toward ethanol. Biofuels are certainly part of the energy mix needed to counteract global warming, but only within limits. Rather than serving as an open-ended giveaway, subsidies need to be calibrated to reflect those limits.

Sorry, Suburbs—Cities Are Cooler

June 3, 2008

Most discussions on how to reduce your carbon footprint focus on what you drive and how well your house is insulated. Those issues are certainly vital, but the bigger issue may really be how much  you drive and how big  your residence is.  And those, in turn, get you into the wonky subject of land use.

There is a growing sense among experts on of climate change that development patterns of communities are a key determinant of greenhouse gas emissions: People who live in more sparsely populated suburbs will inevitably drive more miles and will tend to live in larger homes that use lots of energy, no matter how well they are insulated.

The latest example of this new consensus is a report issued last week by the Metropolitan Policy Program of the Brookings Institution. News coverage of Shrinking the Carbon Footprint of Metropolitan American in outlets such as the New York Times focused on differences in per capita carbon emissions among metropolitan areas, which Brookings attributes primarily to factors such as differences in climate and power-plant fuel mix.

Yet the main message of the report is that urban areas overall play a key role in limiting greenhouse gas emissions thanks to the more compact structure of communities and the availability of public transit as an alternative to CO2-spewing automobiles. More densely populated areas, the authors note, also make more efficient use of electric, water, sewage and communications infrastructure.

This is true, they find, not only when comparing metro areas to non-metro areas but also to a certain extent among urban areas. Older cities such as New York, Chicago, Boston and San Francisco that have denser population distribution and more extensive transit systems are all low per-capita emitters, while sprawling, car-dependent metro areas such as Nashville and Oklahoma City rank high.

The authors admit there are exceptions to the rule. Washington, DC, for instance, has a relatively high level of transit use but also has an elevated level of per-capita CO2 emissions, largely because of the large amount of coal used by electric utilities in the region.

The Brookings report builds on prior research such as the path-breaking Growing Cooler report—written by a team led by Reid Ewing of the National Center for Smart Growth—which summarizes scholarship on the links between land use and climate change. A recent working paper by Evans Paull of the Northeast-Midwest Institute takes the discussion a step further and argues that brownfield and in-fill development projects within cities create the potential for even more dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Smart growth turns out to be smart not only for quality of life but also for quality of the climate.

The Man Without a Plan, Uncle Sam

May 22, 2008

The man without a plan? That would be Uncle Sam!

 

It has been 20 years since cities started adopting clawbacks, often in the wake of plant closings, and they are everywhere today.

 

It has been 14 years since the living wage movement took off and today Job Quality Standards are found in most states’ development code and many cities’ and counties= contracts.

 

It has been 13 years since Minnesota enacted what was then a terrific disclosure law and half the states now disclose to varying degrees.

 

It has been 10 years since the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy won its first Community Benefits Agreements, that model has spread across the nation.

 

We are way past any dogma that these reforms are going to somehow “poison the business climate.”

 

Yet look at the pathetic state of the federal government=s main economic development agencies and programs:

HUD is in shambles, not just because of Secretary Jackson’s departure under an ethics cloud, but because its funding has been repeatedly cut and its staff demoralized so that it has grown irrelevant on the big issues of the day.

 

Did HUD avert the subprime scandal? Is HUD weatherizing millions of homes to curb global warming and help people deal with soaring energy prices?

 

Community Development Block Grants C HUD’s biggest urban aid program C lack basic safeguards, and they don’t require Community Benefits.

 

It is because of cutbacks in programs like Block Grants that city officials claim they must mortgage our future C that they must create TIF districts that impoverish our tax base and our schools for 15, 23, even 35 years.

 

The Department of Labor’s Workforce Investment Act also spreads money everywhere, but it lacks a firm Job Quality Standards requirement (although some local WIBs have attached them).

 

The same structural accountability problems exist with major Department of Commerce programs.

 

And as one newspaper exposé revealed, even the Agriculture Department spends billions for economic development, much of it fueling sprawl or favoring big businesses over small ones or subsidizing projects in wealthy areas that don=t need help.

 

There is one tiny office of the Environmental Protection Agency doing some terrific work on smart growth, but it is just one tiny office.

 

It is a big issue that Uncle Sam Has No Plan. According to estimates made in the mid-1990s, the federal government spends two and a half times more on “corporate welfare” than do all 50 states combined — about $125 billion per year C versus $50 billion for all the states.

 

As in the states, most of those federal dollars are uncollected taxes: tax credits, tax exemptions, bonus depreciation, and so forth. But we still don’t have specific details about who got what.

In my next blog: how Uncle Sam’s incomplete disclosure systems reveals only the tip of the iceberg.

 

 

 

 


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