Archive for June, 2012

Sunshine State Accidentally Releases Sunshine

June 28, 2012

Florida has been turning out the lights on economic development, and now it is having trouble managing the release of less information.

Last week, Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) accidentally released information on subsidy deals currently being negotiated by the state. Instead of sending a blank template for an upcoming subsidy disclosure website, DEO sent a database to Integrity Florida, a watchdog group that in turn shared it with journalists. Upon learning of its mistake, DEO demanded everyone destroy their copies claiming that publication of the list would harm the state’s recruitment efforts.

The gaffe comes as the Sunshine state has been growing opaque on jobs. Florida law prevents releasing information on subsidized companies for the first two years after deals are agreed to, and deals in negotiation are granted confidentiality. Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private development arm, discloses only partial information on subsidy recipients in its annual reports.

That’s a retreat from 2007, when the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development started posting information on deals in several programs. However, after Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011, the disclosure website disappeared (as did Florida’s Recovery Act website). More than a year ago, Good Jobs First asked about the lost information and DEO told us the data were merely being moved to a new website under the new Department of Economic Opportunity. But the data has yet to resurface.

The data leak last week shows that since January 2011, Florida committed $155 million to 270 subsidy deals that promised to create more than 32,000 jobs.

According to a blog by Aaron Deslatte from Orlando Sentinel, the state “flipped out” and Gov. Scott himself called the Sentinel’s editor trying to quash the story, but to no avail.

We predict the leak will not harm Florida’s economy, because economic development disclosure never has hurt any state’s business climate. We hope the episode will remind Floridians that its pioneering Open Records history has served it well.

Abatements and TIF: Worse Than Ever for Schools

June 22, 2012

A study just released by the Census Bureau helps explain why property tax abatements and TIF are growing issues for people who care about public education.

For the first time in 16 years, it reports, local funding (65 percent of which comes from property taxes) provided the greatest share of school funding. That reverses a long-term trend in which state funding has become a larger share of the pie (with federal support accounting for only a small share).

But with states balancing their budgets in part by slashing aid to school boards and other local government bodies, local revenue matters more than ever.

That’s why costly long-term property tax abatements, routinely granted to large companies in the name of economic development, hurt schools more than ever. The same can be said for tax increment financing (TIF) districts, which can divert huge sums of property taxes (and sometimes others) for decades.

And that is bad news for real economic development that benefits all employers currently in a community. Schools also matter a lot for expansion and attraction. Because when an employer considers relocating to an area (and moving key personnel), the first thing those key employees want to know is: how good are the schools?  And the HR director wants to know: we will be able to hire well-educated new-hires? And they will also ask: has school quality been supporting strong home values?

Now more than ever, protecting the local property tax base from costly and unfair abatements and TIF matters for long-term economic development and a sound business climate.

See also Stateline’s coverage here.

Americans for Transit

June 14, 2012

Responding to the nation’s public transportation crisis, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and Good Jobs First (GJF) announced today the launch of Americans for Transit (A4T), a new non-profit to create, strengthen and unite grassroots transit rider groups.  They also announced Andrew Austin as A4T’s founding executive director.

Ridership on buses, trains, and ferries is skyrocketing with Americans taking 10.4 billion rides in 2011 – the highest number in decades.  But due to the recession, 85 percent of transit agencies have had to cut routes, borrow money and/or increase fares just to keep running.

“Transit is a major social justice issue of our day,” stated Larry Hanley, ATU International President and Chair of the A4T board. “Ridership is the highest in decades, but riders have suffered the worst wave of fare hikes and service cuts in post-war history. These are tax hikes imposed on the working poor, plain and simple. Americans need better, affordable transit service. The ATU and Americans for Transit will work to make that happen by organizing more riders, workers and advocates to fight for public transit.”

“Andrew Austin stood out because of his terrific track record as field director of the Transportation Choices Coalition in Washington State,”  said Greg LeRoy, GJF executive director and A4T secretary-treasurer. “He values local community organizing, is savvy with social media, and has a sophisticated grasp of transit policy.”

Americans for Transit is the latest response by ATU and GJF to the nation’s transit crisis. Since Hanley’s election in the fall of 2010, the two organizations have staged two community-labor “boot camps” training grassroots groups and local union leaders in 95 cities how to organize riders, and published Transit Rider Organizing: A How-To Manual that compiles eight case studies of winning campaigns, catalogs best practices, and provides the first-ever national directory of grassroots rider groups.

“Despite federal gridlock on the surface transportation act, at the state and local level Americans continue to show terrific support for transit,” said Austin. “Recent votes in Louisiana and Wisconsin prove again that Americans believe transit is critical for a healthy environment, a strong economy, and fairness to the working poor, seniors, students and the disabled.”

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The Amalgamated Transit Union is the largest labor organization representing transit workers in the United States and Canada. Founded in 1892, the ATU today is comprised of over 190,000 members in 264 local unions spread across 44 states and nine provinces.

Good Jobs First is a nationally recognized resource center promoting accountability in economic development and smart growth for working families.  Click here to read the Transit Rider Organizing Manual online.

Massachusetts Joins States with Tax Credit Transparency

June 5, 2012

Congratulations, Massachusetts!  As of this week, the Commonwealth has officially joined the ranks of states that disclose the recipients of economic development subsidies. Transparency legislation enacted in 2010 required the state Department of Revenue to begin posting this year the names of recipients of certain transferable or refundable tax credits, along with the value of those credits. Included on this list are the Film Tax Credit, the Economic Development Incentive Program, and refundable research credits aimed at the biotechnology and life science industries. The data, which include a total of 736 individual entries, can be viewed here.

This was all made possible through the efforts of groups such as MassPIRG, Common Cause Massachusetts, and One Massachusetts that spearheaded the campaign for the legislation.

Having long anticipated this advance in transparency, we at Good Jobs First wasted no time adding the new Massachusetts info to our Subsidy Tracker, which now contains more than 154,000 listings from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.