Archive for the ‘Subsidies’ Category

Audit of Texas Subsidies Reveals Lax Oversight, Enters Gubernatorial Debate

October 8, 2014

A new audit of the controversial Texas Enterprise Fund is casting deep doubts on economic development practices in Texas and has become a key issue the current gubernatorial race.

Over the course of Governor Rick Perry’s term in office, over a half-billion dollars in subsidies have been awarded to over 100 companies. New revelations from the recent audit raise questions as to whether recipients were adequately vetted and monitored.

moneybagsAmong the major findings:

  • Nearly half of the money awarded, some $223 million, went to 11 recipients that failed to file an application or make specific job creation promises.
  • Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a candidate for Governor, denied public access to application records on TEF subsidy recipients. Oddly, the audit revealed that some applications which the Attorney General’s office claimed were exempt from freedom of information laws never actually existed.
  • Because of the failure to adequately document the process of awarding subsidies, the Auditor concluded that, “It was not always possible to determine how the [Governor’s] Office made awarding decisions.”
  • The Auditor specifically criticized the practice of “self-reported information that recipients submitted” to determine compliance.
  • A January 2013 report to the legislature gave a misleading impression about subsidies by reporting promised job creation from TEF recipients. The actual rate of job creation, 73 percent, was omitted. Such oversights led the Auditor to conclude that “The Office also did not consistently provide decision makers with complete and accurate information.” Worse, the report ignored requirements to inform the legislature about the median wages of subsidized jobs and the number of jobs providing health care benefits to employees.
  • TEF subsidy agreements frequently failed to adequately define full-time job creation, despite requiring it from subsidy recipients. And some subsidy recipients weren’t required to meet job-creation benchmarks before receiving grants.
  • The Governor’s Office fell short on recapturing some $3.8 million in subsidies from 23 recipients whose contracts were terminated and could have collected some $14.5 million through clawbacks from firms failing to meet job creation goals.
  • State law requires that both the Texas Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor be notified about changes in subsidy contracts. But the audit reveals lapses in notifying these parties about changes in subsidy contracts.

GASB Finally Prepares to Step Up! And Who is GASB, You Ask?

October 7, 2014

For many years, we at Good Jobs First have criticized GASB—the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, or “GAZ-bee”— for failing to require state and local governments to disclose economic development subsidy spending in a uniform way.

It appears that’s finally about to change, and if it does, it will be hard to overstate the significance of the news.

As the group that has been successfully shaming states and cities to disclose on subsidies all these years, with our 50-state and 50-locality “report card” studies, and as the group that has been collecting all the public data—and also lots of previously unpublished data—in our Subsidy Tracker database, we are intimately familiar with the irregularities and gaps that exist in these vital public records. And we have long shown how to fix them in our model legislation.

First, a quick primer on GASB: it is the public-sector counterpart to the Financial Accounting Standards Board, or FASB, which issues private-sector accounting rules. Each body oversees its respective set of rules, which are constantly under review and improvement, known as Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, or GAAP.

Adhering to GASB, cities, counties, states (and other government bodies such as school boards and sewer districts) must account for their finances in conformity to GAAP if they want to receive ratings from the major credit ratings agencies (Moody’s, Standard & Poors, Fitch), which they must earn if they wish to sell bonds.

The same is true for corporations of all kinds if they wish to satisfy shareholders, sell debt, or even get foundation grants. Indeed, Good Jobs First’s auditors have to certify us as GAAP compliant in our annual financial statement. All of which is to say: the influence of GASB and FASB is enormous and ubiquitous; they are the arbiters of sound United States bookkeeping standards that protect investors, taxpayers, and consumers every day. (Both are part of the non-profit Financial Accounting Foundation.)

Now, GASB is preparing rules that say: to meet GAAP, governments will have to publish an annual accounting of the revenue lost to economic development subsidies. The proposed wording of these rules has not been issued; all we have are board-meeting minutes of a low-profile process spanning more than two years, as GASB gathers information and debates how best to achieve this new standard.

GASB is using the term “tax abatement” as an umbrella term (not just specific to local property tax exemptions) but “a reduction in taxes… in which (a) one or more governmental entities forgo tax revenues that [an individual] taxpayer otherwise would have been obligated to pay and (b) the taxpayer promises to take a specific action that contributes to economic development or otherwise benefits the government(s) or its citizens.” This would appear to also cover state corporate income tax credits and state or local sales tax exemptions, but apparently not tax increment financing.

As part of that process, GASB even commissioned a survey that included citizens groups, county board members and bond analysts. Tellingly, the bond analysts said they are most keen to see both current and future-year costs. For cities like Memphis, where we recently found that Payments in Lieu of Taxes (or PILOTs) cost the city almost one-seventh of its property tax revenue, such losses are apparently becoming bigger concerns for bond investors.

GASB will have a three-month comment period on its proposed rules starting next month (November).

For all the cost-benefit debates featuring inflated ripple-effect claims that beg the more fundamental issue of cause and effect, we have always said: the only thing that can be said for sure is that development subsidies are very expensive, so costly that they undermine funding for public goods that benefit all employers. Therefore, at the very least, taxpayers have the right to know the exact price of every deal and every program (and the outcome of every company-specific deal). GASB now appears to be moving to make some form of standardized disclosure of tax-break costs a reality for reporting periods after December 15, 2015 (and sooner on a voluntary basis).

Some important details remain to be clarified. Based on the board minutes, it appears that GASB will propose giving governments the option of disclosing individual deals or only programs costs in the aggregate (the latter option would be far inferior). We’ll know for sure when the draft standards are published sometime this month. Good Jobs First will publish a detailed analysis of the draft when it comes out.

But for now, the big picture is simply huge: the body that effectively controls how taxpayer dollars are accounted for is finally catching up to the Wild West of record-keeping known as economic development incentives.

Tesla, We Have Questions

September 4, 2014

For Immediate Release September 4, 2014

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

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

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

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

The announcement only raises more questions:

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

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

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

September 3, 2014

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

Sign the petition here.

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

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

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

 

Sign the petition here.

 

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

August 25, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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The Golden State Gives Out the Gold

August 21, 2014

California traditionally avoided the lavish subsidy packages that other states offer to large corporations to attract investment. In the Good Jobs First Megadeals report last year, there were only two California entries, and they both involved local rather than state money.

In a dramatic reversal, the Golden State is now giving out big pots of gold. The California legislature recently awarded cash-flow
special corporate tax breaks
worth more than $420 million each to two of the country’s largest military contractors.

The state also boosted the pot of money available for film tax credits from $100 million to $400 million. And it may put up a substantial amount to try to win the contest for the huge battery plant planned by Tesla.

The first of the defense megadeals went to Lockheed Martin in connection with its role as a major subcontractor for Boeing on a $55 billion contract the Air Force will award for next-generation stealth bombers.

When the legislature approved the subsidy deal in July, Northrop Grumman, the only known competitor for the bomber contract, cried foul play because the tax break gave Lockheed an unfair advantage.  To appease the company the legislature passed a similar subsidy bill for Northrop last week that was then signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Like other defense contractors, Lockheed and Northrop know that to attract political support for their projects, they need to spread their operations around. And in doing so, they manage to get state and local subsidies as well. The Good Jobs First Subsidy Tracker shows that Lockheed has received $134,349,564 in subsidies in 18 states.  Northrop Grumman has received $499,567,863 in subsidies in 9 different states.  Northrop’s most recent subsidy is a $471 million package from Florida. (This megadeal is included in the total and will be added to our database in a forthcoming update.)

Until now Lockheed and Northrop received only modest subsidies in California, mostly in the form of training assistance. California clearly wants to revive its shrinking aerospace industry, but it is unclear that the big giveaways are the way to go.

Defense contracting is a particularly risky bet these days.  With calls for cuts in the military budget coming from both the left and the right, the future of the new stealth bomber program is anything but certain.  If the program goes on the chopping block, California will have nothing to show for its new embrace of megadeals.

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.

Cook County, IL Succeeds at Truth in Taxation!

July 11, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 3.07.30 PM

One year ago today, Cook County Clerk David Orr announced plans to print TIF revenue diversions on county property tax bills. We previously blogged about this effort, eagerly awaiting this TIF transparency enhancement.

Wait no longer! The Cook County Clerk’s office made good on its promise of taxpayer transparency and has issued property tax bills containing information about TIF for each individual property owner. For that we congratulate them on bringing needed sunlight to TIF in Chicago and other municipalities in Cook County.

We hope jurisdictions across the country take notice of Cook County, Illinois. Taxpayers have a right to know how their taxes get spent. With so much property tax revenue in Chicago never ending up in the city’s general revenue fund, printing TIF costs on tax bills enables citizens to make better judgements about the value of TIF projects and how their taxes get spent. We applaud such efforts.

For more Good Jobs First research on TIF revenue diversions in Chicago, see our 2014 report.

For more about how Cook County printed TIF on property tax bills, see the County Clerk’s website and watch the Youtube Video below:

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.


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