A growing number of state and local governments are applying clawback provisions to economic development subsidies to be sure companies live up to their job-creation promises. Unfortunately, these provisions are not always enforced and usually are unenforceable after the subsidy period has expired.
The city of Portage, Indiana (east of Gary) recently took the unusual step of strengthening its clawback provisions relating to business tax abatements so that they remain in effect for five years beyond the duration of the abatements. The Portage City Council approved the new rules after growing frustrated at the number of companies that were leaving town after the abatements expired.
“A lot of times, we made investments, and companies got up and left,” Edward Gottschling, Portage City Council Member told Good Jobs First. “We want businesses that are going to stay here, not ones that will pick up and leave after abatement period ends.”
The new rules also strengthen the ability of the city to seek payment of abated taxes even during the subsidy period. Companies are required to provide an annual report to the City Council with the number of employees and level of wages to ensure that they are following the stipulations of their application. The penalties for infractions include discontinuation of the abatement and repayment of remitted taxes. The current abatements are grandfathered in and are not subject to the new clawbacks. If a company wants to apply for an additional abatement, however, they are required to meet the new requirements. As Donna Pappas, Clerk Treasurer of the City of Portage told me over the phone, “We’re trying to develop a diversified economy within our municipalities and at the same time look out for our residents and this is going to help us.”
A similar clawback provision is on the books in Ohio, where a company receiving state income tax abatements must stay at its original location for at least twice the number of years as the term of the tax credit. Other cities would be wise to follow suit and enact similar provisions to hold companies accountable to communities.