In Volkswagen Meddling, Did Tennessee Officials’ Actions Violate a Supreme Court Ruling?

April 10, 2014 by

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Update on 4/21/14: Hours before today’s scheduled NLRB hearing, the United Auto Workers withdrew their election appeal and urged Gov. Bill Haslam to reinstate his $300 million offer of expansion subsidies with no strings attached this time. Saying that Tennessee officials could again interfere with an election re-run, the UAW said it will ask a federal Congressional inquiry to look into the role of federal funds in the conditioned-subsidy dispute. “The UAW is ready to put February’s tainted election in the rearview mirror and instead focus on advocating for new jobs and economic investment in Chattanooga,” said UAW President Bob King in a statement.

Recent revelations by NewsChannel5 investigative reporter Phil Williams in Chattanooga explicitly raise an issue that I hinted at in my blog on public officials in Tennessee interfering with the vote among Volkswagen workers about joining the United Auto Workers. In that blog, I pointed out that Gov. Bill Haslam asserted that the past granting of subsidies to the plant gave him a right to weigh in on the vote and that a state legislator broadly hinted he would oppose new subsidies to expand the plant if the workers voted to unionize.

The Channel 5 revelations make these links much more vivid. The secret expansion negotiations were dubbed “Project Trinity,” and an August 23, 2013 “Project Trinity Final Summary of Incentives,” in which the state offers $299.8 million in subsidies, has as its first line of content: “The incentives described below are subject to works council discussions between the State of Tennessee and VW being concluded to the satisfaction of the State of Tennessee.”

I am not a lawyer, but that stipulation stands out to me because of the 1985 Supreme Court Case Golden State Transit Corp. v. Los Angeles. In this case, the Court ruled that state and local governments may not pre-empt the power of the National Labor Relations Board in enforcing those private-sector matters governed by the National Labor Relations Act. Specifically, the Court found that Los Angeles, by canceling a taxi franchise, interfered in “permissible economic tactics” being used by the company and its Teamster workforce during a strike.

The Channel 5 revelations suggest Tennessee officials were committing an equivalent act: they were using the conditioned offer of future subsidies to influence a representation election. It looks like impermissible interference in private-sector labor relations.

Indeed, the Haslam administration now admits that it withdrew the August expansion-aid offer in January as the UAW vote neared. While a state official told Channel 5 that the offer had a standard 90-day duration (which had already been extended two months), Channel 5 reports that the offer it obtained “contains no reference to any sort of 90-day deadline.”

The leaked emails also make it clear that Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development officials were paying close attention to the vote. Indeed, Gov. Haslam even wrote Volkswagen a letter on February 4th protesting what he considered an unfair lack of access to the plant for anti-union organizers (Volkswagen allowed UAW organizers access).

The emails also show that high-level Tennessee officials, including the chief of staff to U.S. Senator Bob Corker, and chief of staff to Gov. Haslam’s commerce department, were interacting with anti-union consultants during the union election.

The United Auto Workers have seized upon the Channel 5 revelations to broaden the evidence for their Labor Board case seeking to invalidate the vote as tainted by the officials’ actions. The UAW for an April 21 NLRB hearing in Chattanooga has subpoenaed: Gov. Haslam, his economic development commissioner Bill Hagerty, and Hagerty’s chief of staff; Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform; State Senator Bo Watson; Sen. Corker’s chief of staff; Peter List of LaborUnionReport.com; and Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, among others.

Among the materials requested of the witnesses are records of “Government Incentives” defined as “…aid or relief of any nature – whether proposed, contemplated, or effectuated…” by the state for the benefit of Volkswagen.

We await that hearing with interest.

 

Supersizing New Jersey’s Subsidies

April 8, 2014 by

What a waste

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

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

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

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

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

New Report: Putting Municipal Pension Costs in Context: Chicago

April 4, 2014 by

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.

Connecticut’s Open Data Website Leads Nation in Adopting Economic Development Transparency Best Practices

April 1, 2014 by
Screenshot taken from Connecticut's new Open Data website

Screenshot taken from Connecticut’s new Open Data website

Those looking for a model on how to disclose economic development deals should start their search in Connecticut. No joke: Connecticut is cutting edge when it comes to taxpayer transparency on economic development.

Yesterday, Governor Dannel Malloy launched a new website called Data.CT.gov which aggregates numerous datasets that were previously unavailable or difficult to find. Included in this portal are many economic development programs we have doggedly watched and evaluated for transparency and accountability. Our January 2014 study ranked Connecticut 14th on job subsidy transparency: the states’ new website is a clear improvement that would have boosted their ranking into the top ten nationally had it been in use when we ranked all 50 states.

The Governor’s new transparency efforts came to fruition through two executive orders: one creating the website and the other instructing the state’s economic development agency to compile a searchable electronic database of subsidy information.

What makes the Connecticut website such a great model?

  • Clean Data: Often state agencies put up data in a haphazard fashion. Misspellings, data irregularities, and so forth make the data less useable. Worse, sometimes agencies put up data in static, unsearchable PDFs, not databases which contain the same information. When Good Jobs First imports data into our 50-state Subsidy Tracker database, this sort of messy data requires a great deal of clean-up. It’s clear that Connecticut has taken the time to ensure the data isn’t messy.
  • Relevant Data: The Connecticut portal also includes extremely important data that other states frequently forget to include. These fields include things such as clawback amounts, contract date timelines, job benchmarks, the result of a jobs audit, the amount of a subsidy awarded, the amount of a subsidy disbursed in each year, and the facility address. Including these data fields meets many of Good Jobs First’s best practices recommendations. In fact, the only data that really seems to have been omitted from the database is information about the wages and benefits of subsidized jobs (see here).
  • Data Tools: Another open data best practice is to allow users to easily search through the data. The database includes built-in mapping tools, filters, and charts. As the screenshot above illustrates, taxpayers can now easily see on a map all film tax credit recipients that were issued tax credit amounts greater than $1 million.
  • Downloadable Data: Connecticut doesn’t hamstring users like it used to with a single big PDF. Now the data is available in a variety of easy to download formats including XML, CSV, and, of course, Excel spreadsheets.
  • More Data: Frequently states spend a great deal of time disclosing data about a few major programs, but forget to disclose information about other economic development programs. This database includes tax credits, grants, loans, and other economic development tools. For more discussion about tax credit disclosure, see our previous blog on the topic. Connecticut’s data also includes previously undisclosed data about programs. For instance, it includes street addresses for film tax credit recipients.
  • Potential taxpayer savings: In the long run, the database will also save Connecticut taxpayers money. Frequently, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests cost the government great resources in responding. But the new website will include frequently requested FOIA data. In addition to staff time saved, the enhanced ability for more citizens to know how their tax dollars are being spent will prevent waste, fraud, and abuse and enhance accountability.

We encourage you to go on the website and give it whirl: https://data.ct.gov/Business/Tax-Credit-Portfolio-Point-Map/megq-7hbv

Accountability Updates in Oregon

March 20, 2014 by

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

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

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

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

Subsidies See More Sunshine in NYC

March 19, 2014 by

sunshine week verticalIn the spirit of Sunshine Week, Good Jobs New York is proud to announce a trio of transparency enhancements introduced at this month’s New York City Industrial Development Agency board meeting. Our ongoing advocacy efforts promoting transparency at the agency led to these improvements and we applaud the IDA for taking steps to be more open. The improvements, which are expected to be in place at the IDA by the summer, include:

• Adding an interactive map of active deals to the agency’s website;
• Moving from audio casting to webcasting of IDA Board meetings; and
• Creating of transcripts of testimony given at IDA public hearings.

These initiatives build on an earlier set of reforms put in place in 2010 which extended access to company-specific details for the life of a project’s agreement; provided data on the value of land sales negotiated by the Economic Development Corporation, and – most notably – required public posting of company-specific subsidy information in digital database files.

Additionally, in response to a suggestion from the former IDA Board appointee of then New York City Comptroller John Liu, the Directors began to receive a monthly “Enforcement Action Report” with details and status updates for any IDA project not in compliance with its project agreement. Although this and all materials provided to board members were not made available to the public, GJNY obtains these records through a regular Freedom of Information request and posts them on our website.

The new IDA policies are a promising start on a broader list of goals outlined in a detailed letter to NYC Economic Development Corporation President Kyle Kimball from ten leading transparency and good government groups earlier this month. Good Jobs New York will continue working with these organizations to bring ever-increasing sunshine to the city’s economic development policies.

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

March 5, 2014 by

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

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

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

Another Scandal at Florida’s Privatized Development Agency

February 28, 2014 by
Click to watch the CBS12 investigation

Click to watch the CBS12 investigation

For the followers of Enterprise Florida (EFI), another scandal at the organization should not come as a surprise. Television station CBS12 in Palm Beach discovered this week that EFI, the privatized “public-private partnership” responsible for recruiting companies to the state, has spent thousands of dollars on entertaining site selection consultants.

About $21,000 was spent at Yankee Stadium in New York, another $7,100 at the Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Tex., and $4,400 at Turner Field in Atlanta, Ga. More than half a million more was billed to EFI credit cards for food, hotels and other entertainment. Enterprise Florida justified the lavish entertainment bills by saying it “must build and maintain strong relationships with site selection professionals across the country.” It is important to remember, however, that the majority of EFI’s funding comes from the public coffers, so, ultimately, the Florida taxpayers are the ones paying for those lavish expenses.

Just a few months ago, another scandal revealed that few of the jobs announced by EFI have yet materialized and several of the announced deals actually collapsed.

Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan watch-dog group, sent a letter to Governor Rick Scott calling on him to investigate the EFI spending. We join the Integrity Florida call!

New Jersey’s Big Money Clearing House

February 25, 2014 by

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

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

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

Subsidy Tracker Reveals Big-Business Dominance of Job Subsidies

February 25, 2014 by

With Parent-Subsidiary Ties Linked, Database Reveals Big-Business Dominance of Job Subsidies

Washington, DC, February 25, 2014—Three-quarters of all the economic development dollars awarded and disclosed by state and local governments throughout the United States have gone to just 965 large corporations.

Some of these big recipients, such as Boeing (at more than $13 billion) are well known for aggressively seeking tax breaks by pitting states against each other for jobs. However, 16 other companies, many less intuitive, have received awards totaling more than $1 billion, often to subsidiaries with names bearing no similarity to their corporate parents.

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, for example, has received 310 subsidy awards totaling $1.06 billion to subsidiaries with names such as Geico, NetJets, Nebraska Furniture Mart, General Re Corporation, Lubrizol Advanced Materials, and Webb Wheel Products.

These are the key findings in Subsidizing the Corporate One Percent, a report published today by Good Jobs First summarizing information brought to light by an extensive enhancement of GJF’s Subsidy Tracker database.

Good Jobs First is a non-profit, non-partisan research center in Washington, DC focusing on economic development accountability. The report and the database can be found at http://www.goodjobsfirst.org/subsidizingthecorporateonepercent.

“Subsidy Tracker can now demonstrate that a dominant share of the subsidies awarded by state and local governments in the name of job creation is ending up in the hands of a limited group of companies which can be regarded as the Corporate One Percent,” said Good Jobs First Research Director Philip Mattera, who created the original database and the newly released version 2.0.

Subsidy Tracker now contains parent-subsidiary linkages for more than 25,000 entries with aggregate values of $110 billion, or 75 percent of the total dollar value of all the entries in the Tracker universe. Those entries have been connected to 965 parent companies drawn from the Fortune 500, the Forbes list of the largest private companies and similar lists. The total of about 1,300 corporations checked for Tracker matches represent a good proxy for big business.

The Fortune 500 alone account for more than 16,000 subsidy awards worth $63 billion, or about 43 percent of total Tracker dollars.

“In our Megadeals study last year, we found that since 2008, there has been a spike in the number and cost of gold-plated deals, even though overall deal flow remains depressed,” said Good Jobs First Executive Director Greg LeRoy. “It looks like the corporate rich are getting richer at the expense of public goods that benefit all employers.”

Subsidy Tracker 2.0 shows for the first time which companies have received the most cumulative awards, both in dollar terms and numbers of awards. After Boeing, whose $13 billion total reflects the giant deals it has gotten in Washington and South Carolina as well as more than 130 smaller deals around the country, the others at the top of the cumulative subsidy dollar list are: Alcoa ($5.6 billion), Intel ($3.9 billion), General Motors ($3.5 billion) and Ford Motor ($2.5 billion). A total of 17 companies have received cumulative subsidy awards worth more than $1 billion; 182 have received awards of $100 million or more. 

The company with the largest number of awards is Dow Chemical, with 416. Following it are Berkshire Hathaway (310), General Motors (307), Wal-Mart Stores (261), General Electric (255), Walgreen (225) and FedEx (222). Forty-eight companies have received more than 100 individual awards. The award numbers include some for which no dollar amount has been disclosed (reflecting the inconsistent quality of state and local disclosure).

Among the 965 parents identified as subsidy recipients, the average number of awards is 26 and the average total dollar amount (from awards for which this information is disclosed) is $102 million.

Given the decline of manufacturing in the United States, it is interesting that the list of top parent companies is dominated by industrial firms. Of the ten biggest recipients, only one – Cerner – is primarily a service provider. As for specific industries, auto is well represented, with GM, Ford, Fiat (which now owns Chrysler) and Nissan in the top ten. Toyota is no. 16 and Volkswagen is no. 22. Other heavy industries represented include aerospace (Boeing, no.1), semiconductors (Intel, no.3), petroleum (Royal Dutch Shell, no.7), chemicals (Dow, no.12) and steel (ArcelorMittal, no.13).

Also significant is the presence of foreign-based corporations. There are three in the top ten (Fiat, Royal Dutch Shell and Nissan) and another five in the next 15.  Since private equity firms are treated as big-business parents, the list includes several of those firms. The most-subsidized is Silver Lake Partners, which now controls the computer company Dell and thus has Dell’s megadeals in North Carolina and Tennessee attributed to it.

The list of most-subsidized parent companies overlaps considerably with the companies in the Megadeals report Good Jobs First issued last June. Of the 100 most-subsidized parent companies, 89 received at least one megadeal (worth $75 million or more).

“Both our new findings and our Megadeals study clearly suggest a ‘corporate rich getting richer’ trend,” LeRoy added.

 


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