Archive for the ‘Taxes’ Category

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“report card” studies, and as the group that has been collecting all the public data—and also lots of previously unpublished data—in our Subsidy Tracker database, we are intimately familiar with the irregularities and gaps that exist in these vital public records.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: New Technology, Same Old Subsidy Charade

September 9, 2014

Tesla Motor’s shameful subsidy competition for its battery factory is wrapping up to a close in a state known for big gambling.  The Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) announced last week it had assembled a breathtaking package for the proposed “Gigafactory” totaling as much as $1.3 billion in tax breaks.  Governor Brian Sandoval has called the legislature into a special session starting this week to approve the deal, which is unprecedented in size in Nevada.  Included are new transferable tax credits based on the electric vehicle manufacturer’s hiring and investment, plus extensions of existing business, sales, and property tax abatement programs that would allow Tesla to operate completely tax-free in the state for ten years.  (The majority of the subsidy package lasts for twenty years.)  If approved in its current iteration, the megadeal will be among the 15 most expensive state subsidy packages in U.S. history.

powered by subsidies

 

Two weeks prior to this announcement and in anticipation of a subsidy shakedown by Tesla, Good Jobs First coordinated with groups in the five states named by Tesla to compete for the battery factory. Along with Arizona PIRG, the California Budget ProjectProgressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN), New Mexico’s SouthWest Organizing Project, and Texans for Public Justice, we issued an open letter calling for transparency and cooperation between states forced into a subsidy bidding war for the battery manufacturing jobs.  Media response to this effort was strong, but state lawmakers bound by non-disclosure agreements common to secret site selection negotiations did not comply with our requests.

Aside from the subsidy terms, the only information made public about the pending Nevada deal consists of overly optimistic job-creation talking points.  During last week’s press conference Gov. Sandoval told attendees that 22,000 new jobs would be created by the project and that the total economic impact would be $100 billion over the 20-year subsidy term.  6,500 new direct permanent positions will purportedly enjoy an average wage in excess of $25 per hour, according to the Governor’s office.  A day before the special session is rumored to begin, the economic impact study informing these extravagant economic figures has not been presented for public review and the economic projections are being challenged.  Economist Richard Florida believes 3,000 permanent positions are more likely, and estimates the total job creation impact at 9,750 – less than half of the 22,000 claimed by GOED.

For anyone paying attention to the super-hyped “Gigafactory” site selection competition, the announcement that the company had selected Reno, Nevada came as no surprise.  Although Tesla has maintained over recent months that it was also negotiating terms with Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas, it broke ground outside Reno early this summer.  The location is proximate to lithium mining operations, boasts freeway and class 1 rail access, and is less than a day’s drive from the Tesla assembly plant in Fremont.  Storey County, Nevada – Tesla’s future home – is famous in the state for approving industrial permits in less than a month.  In hindsight, Tesla’s unusual announcement that it intended to break ground in several sites is starting to appear disingenuous.

What exactly the company has been seeking over the past few months is more of a mystery.  Tesla has announced, at various points during this period, that it wanted laws changed to allow direct sales of its cars to consumers, as is the case in California.  It emphasized that the most important factor for launching the Gigafactory was expedited permitting, so Tuscon, Arizona issued Tesla an unsolicited blank building permit in July.  Initially mum on the topic of economic development subsidies, (and well after reports surfaced of a $800 million subsidy offered by San Antonio, Texas) CEO Elon Musk announced last month during a conference call that he expected the “winning “ state to ante up a $500 million investment for the battery factory.

In the context of all of this messaging on the company’s priorities, the size of the subsidy offered by Nevada is all the more confounding.  During last week’s press event in Carson City, Musk repeatedly stressed that incentives were not among Tesla’s most important considerations in its location decision.  What remains unanswered is why Nevada was compelled to offer more than double the $500 million subsidy originally sought by Tesla.  Until the veil is lifted from secretive corporate incentive negotiations, the public will be left out of the critical conversations that determine the who, where, and why of business subsidy decisions it is forced to fund.  In the meantime, many questions remain as the state’s lawmakers move toward a vote on the largest subsidy package in Nevada history.

Tesla, 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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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:

New Report: Putting Municipal Pension Costs in Context: Chicago

April 4, 2014

Have secretive TIF accounts played a significant role in the underfunding of Chicago pension funds?

A new report out today, Putting Municipal Pension Costs in Context: Chicago, focuses on how Tax Increment Financing or TIF seems to be undermining the city’s budget and has been for the last decade. At a moment when politicians are talking about cutting retirement benefits for civil servants like Teachers, Firefighters, and Policemen, we think it’s useful to remind the public about what’s been dubbed Chicago’s Shadow Budget, none other than TIF.

There’s been no shortage of troubling issues surrounding TIF. We’ve blogged about them a number of times on this blog.

Nearly one out of every ten property tax dollars collected in Chicago doesn’t end up in the city’s general fund or with other taxing jurisdictions that provide public services. Instead, those revenues are siphoned off into what were once secret TIF accounts controlled almost exclusively by the Mayor.

While this report does not specifically call for the abolition of TIF in Chicago or oppose taking other measures to raise the needed revenues to pay for critical public services, we believe that as a matter of honest accounting and fair budgeting, TIF requires careful consideration.

TIF_Costs_Growth

TIF costs have grown significantly in recent years. They have for years exceeded the City’s annual pension liability. Our analysis shows that property tax diversions into TIF have exceeded pension costs in every year since 2007. For example, the city’s pension costs were about $386 million in 2012, while TIF diverted $457 million in property tax revenues in that same year.

TIF_Rev_vs_PensionCosts

When newly elected Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office, he convened a TIF review process in order to fix this so-called Shadow Budget. Although the City made TIF far more transparent as a result, the review did not make TIF any less corrosive towards Chicago’s budget. Recent new rounds of proposed subsidies for things like basketball stadiums and hotels raise serious doubts about whether TIF reform has actually materialized.

Aides to Mayor Emanuel have acknowledged that about $1.7 billion sits in TIF accounts, though $1.5 billion is obligated to various projects through 2017. But if the city is willing to consider breaking pension commitments, why should TIF spending not receive similar scrutiny?

Indeed, in California, Governor Jerry Brown didn’t rule out TIF spending to shore up budgets. Much like in Chicago, TIF in California was siphoning off an enormous amount of property tax revenue: 12 percent overall. When efforts to reform California TIFs failed, the state dissolved the authority of localities to have TIF districts and began the process of unwinding the existing debt obligations.

In the long run, local jurisdictions in California will see a 10 to 15 percent increase in property tax revenues over what they would have had with TIF still in effect.

Over the past decade or so, observers have noted that the City of Chicago had a revenue problem, but rarely have they noted the corrosive nature of TIF spending. According to a 2010 report on pensions issued under the previous Mayor of Chicago, pension funds began running into issues after the year 2000. It was during this period that the city began making what the report dubbed “inadequate contributions” to pensions. Is it a coincidence that property tax revenues lost to TIF more than doubled between 2000 and 2003 and quadrupled by 2007 to exceed half a billion dollars a year?

It’s hard to ignore the evidence that TIF impacted pensions: TIF costs grew, general fund revenues declined, and the city addressed its budget gap in part by making inadequate contributions to public pensions.

Cutting back on TIF in Chicago can and should play a role in shoring up the city’s financial situation.

Coverage of the report can be found at The Chicago Sun-Times & at PandoDaily.

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

$2.6 Billion Spent on Cleaning Up DC Rivers Must Address Local Job Creation

June 7, 2013

SinkorSwim_WebBoxOver the next decade, DC Water will use a regressive Impervious Area Charge (IAC) to fund $2.6 billion in needed water infrastructure investments. Middle- and low-income residents and neighborhoods will carry the highest burden of the DC Water fee increase that will pay for these improvements.

Despite the fact that the funding burden of these projects falls heavily on the most vulnerable residents, DC Water has not implemented a local hiring agreement, even though putting residents to work on the project may be the best way to reduce the harm of a regressive fee. These are among the findings of Sink or Swim? Who will pay and who will benefit from DC Water’s $2.6 billion Clean Rivers Project?, a study published this week by Good Jobs First.

More coverage of the report can be found over at the Washington Post and the Washington City Paper’s Housing Complex Blog.

Cities rarely spend so much — $2.6 billion — on infrastructure projects. A strong Community Benefits Agreement could make this public infrastructure investment provide a jobs stimulus benefit to District residents without spending an additional dollar. A proposed Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), like the District’s amended First Source Law, would establish a minimum percentage of work hours that must be performed by District residents, increasing to 50% over the next decade.

The report was commissioned by the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN) and The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA).

Among the major findings:

  • The impact of the IAC – measured as a share of 2013 property taxes – will be four- to five times greater for homeowners in poor neighborhoods than for those in affluent neighborhoods.
  • Small businesses, especially those east of the river, will feel a heavy burden from IAC fees. Office buildings on K Street will feel little impact.
  • There is no indication that District residents will benefit in proportion to their burden. Contractors on major DC Water projects currently employ more North Carolinians than residents from Wards 7 & 8 combined. Over half the contractor workforce lives outside Washington, D.C. and its immediate surroundings.
  • Continued failure to hire local residents will result in a massive transfer of wealth out of the District. We estimate that over the next thirty years, D.C. ratepayers will be billed $4.2 billion in IACs, including $1.1 billion from Wards 7 and 8 alone.

District residents will pay for these infrastructure investments through a regressive fee for the next thirty years. Low- and middle-income residents will be hit the hardest. These are neighborhoods that have historically been excluded from opportunities in construction careers; to not leverage $2.6 billion in public spending for District construction careers would represent a tremendous missed opportunity.

Who Doesn’t Pay

January 30, 2013

At Good Jobs First we tend to focus on the ways that corporations get special tax deals from state governments, so it is helpful to be reminded that wealthy individuals also pay far less than their fair share. A definitive statement of this whopaysfact has just been published by our friends at the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy in the latest edition of their report Who Pays.

The injustice of state taxation is summed up in the main finding of the report: “virtually every state’s tax system is fundamentally unfair, taking a much greater share of middle- and low-income families than from wealthy families.”

At a time when a number of red states are talking about replacing their personal income tax (PIT) systems with higher sales taxes, ITEP points out that the over reliance on consumption taxes (along with the absence of a graduated PIT) is a big part of the regressivity problem in many states.

ITEP notes that five of most regressive states—Washington, Florida, South Dakota, Illinois and Texas—derive half to two thirds of their revenue from sales and excise taxes, compared to a national average of about one third. The least regressive systems, by the way, are those in Delaware, the District of Columbia, New York, Oregon and Vermont.

Although the report does not focus on the corporate portion of state income taxes, it points out: “More than ten states gave away big breaks to profitable corporations either through rate cuts, a change in the apportionment formula used to calculate the corporate income tax, expanded exclusions, or the reduction or elimination of personal property taxes. These states include Arizona, Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.”

Nike Runs Away with New Oregon Tax Giveaway

December 20, 2012

NikeTown, OR, USAOregon Gov. John Kitzhaber must have missed this month’s major New York Times investigative series on business subsidies.  Less than a week after the nation’s paper of record reported that such subsidies are a “zero sum game,” Gov. Kitzhaber called the Oregon legislature into a one-day special session to pass the Economic Impact Investment Act, a corporate tax giveaway custom-tailored for Beaverton-based sportswear retailer Nike, Inc.  The rushed deal and special session were announced last Monday, just four days before the legislature was to consider the bill, and a publicly available version of the proposed legislation was not made available until Tuesday.

HB 4200, which passed the legislature handily on Friday and was signed by Gov. Kitzhaber this week, allows Nike to determine its tax responsibility to the state through the controversial Single Sales Factor (SSF) apportionment method for the next 30 years, whether or not Oregon enacts tax reform during that period.  Nike had expressed interest in expanding in Oregon, but the company reportedly expressed to the Governor that it needed “tax certainty” to commit to growing in the state.  (Make sure to see the Oregon Center for Public Policy’s excellent take on what would constitute true “certainty” when it comes to taxes.)

In its original form, the legislation would have allowed the state to grant guaranteed SSF tax breaks through the Economic Impact Investment Act for a ten-year period, and those deals would have lasted for up to 40 years.  The few accountability amendments passed during the one-day session shortened the amount of time the governor has to strike these tax deals to one year, while also reducing the period during which the tax break lasts to 30 years.

While the bill requires that Nike and any other company vying for the special tax deal invest $150 million and create 500 new jobs, it is silent on wages and other job quality standards.  Significantly, the new law fails to set a meaningful term during which qualifying jobs must be retained by Nike or any other company approved for the sweetheart deal.  It appears that the last 20 years’ worth of basic accountability reforms – now standard practice for most states – are unknown to Oregon’s lawmakers.

The lack of accountability provisions are not the only controversial aspect of the new giveaway.  The Oregonian reported this week that despite the extraordinarily compressed period the legislature was given to consider the bill, the state has been secretly negotiating the deal, termed “Project Impact,” since last July.  You can read the state’s non-disclosure agreement with a company called EMK (presumably a site location consulting firm contracted by Nike to pressure the state) here.

Oregonians are not the only constituency to express concerns about the new law.  Intel, Oregon’s other major corporate employer, was reportedly involved in several heated exchanges with Nike over a particular provision of the original legislation that would have prohibited it from benefiting from the same deal based on the fact that it is already receiving considerable subsidies through Oregon’s Strategic Investment Program.  Unsurprisingly, that provision was removed from the bill.

Oregon, unfortunately, has no such guarantees that economic conditions and fiscal obligations will remain exactly the same in the decades to come.  There are no promises the state can make that protect its residents from change, and this new giveaway means that Oregon cannot rely equally on all businesses and individuals to contribute fairly in the future.


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