Postcard from the Good Jobs First conference

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If you are a researcher or campaigner concerned about economic development accountability, the place to be this week is the national conference of Good Jobs First outside Baltimore. Gathered here are activists who are seeking to remake the relationship between the public and the private sectors.

Some of the most impressive presentations came this morning in a plenary session put together by the Partnership for Working Families (PWF). Madeline Janis, head of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, and Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, who runs the South Bay AFL-CIO and Working Partnerships USA, described remarkable changes that have taken place in parts of California. Union-sponsored non-profit organizations, working with community allies, are turning the tables on developers who used to have the red carpet rolled out for them. Now the right to build large subsidized projects is being made contingent on providing benefits to the community ranging from apprenticeship programs and living-wage jobs to affordable housing, more green space and air pollution abatement. Janis and Ellis-Lamkins seemed to be describing a parallel universe in which the common good takes precedence over monied interests.

Their themes were echoed later in a presentation by Cecilia Estolano, chief executive of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, a remarkable public official who is converting the agency from what she said was a “cookie jar” for developers into a promoter of projects that bring about broad improvements in living standards.

The good news comes not only from California. For example, Deborah Scott of Georgia Stand Up recounted how her group cajoled local officials in Atlanta to provide for community participation in major development projects taking place adjacent to an old rail line ringing the city.

I was unable to attend the PWF workshops (one of five tracks) because I was giving presentations of my own — in my capacity as research director of Good Jobs First — in workshops on advanced research techniques relating to subsidies and corporate taxes. Joining me in the latter were Matt Gardner of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, who told us how to unearth the real tax rates of major corporations (which are often well below what the company claims), and Michael Mazerov of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who described his proposal to compel corporations to disclose abbreviated versions of their state tax returns.

This is only a sample of the provocative ideas swirling around this conference. Wish you could be here.

(This item is being crossposted on Dirt Diggers Digest.)

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