Archive for May, 2014

Virginia Governor Vetoes Bill That Would Ban Pay-To-Play on Subsidies

May 30, 2014
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This week, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed a bill that would have banned corporations seeking Governor’s Opportunity Fund (GOF) subsidies from making contributions or gifts to the elected official awarding those subsidies: in other words, the Governor himself. The bill had unanimous two-chamber support among both Republicans and Democrats, and members of both parties criticized the Governor’s action.

Governor McAuliffe’s primary objection cited in the veto to the bill was that state legislators ought to be held to the same standards. The statute and guidelines state that GOF subsidies are awarded primarily at the discretion of the Governor, though the General Assembly and the Attorney General have a modest oversight role. One co-sponsor of the bill stated that he hopes to re-introduce the bill again next session, though it’s unclear whether the bill will stay in its current form.

It’s a strange moment in Virginia politics. The bill arose out of concern related to the previous Governor’s gift scandal. Just after leaving office in January, former Governor Bob McDonnell was indicted, something that had never happened before in the state.

Is such legislation needed in Virginia?

Good Jobs First previously highlighted an apparent pay-to-play issue in Virginia when McDonnell awarded Northrop Grumman $3 million in GOF subsidies after receiving major campaign contributions from the company.

While banning contributions to politicians from companies seeking subsidies is one way to encourage stronger ethics in government, another approach could be to ban companies from receiving subsidies if they have given or subsequently give contributions to officials awarding or enforcing subsidy contracts. Both would deter pay-to-play practices. Excluding subsidies to campaign contributors would be far easier to implement by shifting implementation away from elected officials and onto agencies awarding subsidies. Just as failing to create jobs can result in recapture or rescission of subsidies, a subsidy contract can undergo a clawback if the agency finds that a company has given to key public officials.

Apparent pay-to-play subsidies are not a problem isolated to Virginia. For example:

  • Texas: As we blogged previously, several newspapers have suggested that economic development subsidies controlled by Texas Governor Rick Perry are tied to fund-raising.
  • Wisconsin: Investigative Reporter Mike Ivey reported this week that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, a privatized economic development agency, has awarded more than 60 percent of $975 million in subsidies to companies that have contributed to Governor Scott Walker or the Republican Governor’s Association.

For decades, state and cities have taken strong stances against allowing gifts and campaign contributions to contractors. Why not ensure the same level of integrity when it comes to economic development spending?

New ProgressOhio Report: JobsOhio Unaccountable and Ineffective

May 29, 2014

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ProgressOhio released a report today questioning the accountability and effectiveness of JobsOhio, the privatized economic development agency created by Gov. John Kasich in 2011.  The organization found that JobsOhio “exaggerated its impact, funneled state money to companies that did not create or retain the promised jobs, and has a pattern of helping companies with ties to its politically potent governing board.”

The report was released in conjunction with a discussion hosted by the American Constitution Society.    ProgressOhio Executive Director Brian Rothenberg told the event audience that “JobsOhio is secret because it is private. But we still get glimpses of the toxic mix of public money and private gain.”

Read the full report here.

The Latest from Subsidy Tracker

May 28, 2014

detectiveEarlier this year, my colleagues and I at Good Jobs First introduced a major overhaul of our Subsidy Tracker database. The big change in Tracker 2.0 was the addition of parent company information for entries representing three-quarters of the total dollar value of the dataset. This allowed us to document for the first time the outsized share of subsidy awards received by big business.

In the past three months we have been enhancing the enhancements. We have increased from 965 to 1,294 the number of matched parent companies, which together are linked to more than 31,000 individual awards with a total value of more than $113 billion. Our parent coverage now extends to the full Fortune 1000 as well as the Fortune Global 500, the Forbes list of the largest privately held companies, the Private Equity International list of the top 50 private equity firms (and their portfolio companies) and the Uniworld list of the 300 largest foreign firms doing business in the United States.

Each parent company has its own summary page, which can be accessed through a drop-down menu at the top of the Tracker search form. These pages include cumulative totals for the subsidies received by the company and all its units and subsidiaries; the states in which it has received the most awards; and a list of all the individual awards that went into those totals. Those lists are sortable and downloadable, and they include links to pages with details on the individual entries.

Since the release of 2.0 we have added a variety of new features to the parent summary pages, including indications of the time period covered by the data and the following identifying information: the company’s ownership structure, the location of its headquarters and its primary industry group. (See below for a summary of what these identifiers show.) We have also begun to add other key info sources on the companies, beginning with links (where available) to the firms’ CTJ-ITEP Tax Dodgers pages and to our Corporate Rap Sheets.

Along with the parent pages, we’ve created summary pages for each of the states and the District of Columbia. They show cumulative totals, the parent companies with the most awards and a sortable and downloadable list of all the listings for the state. The top states in terms of cumulative disclosed subsidy awards are New York ($21 billion), Washington ($13 billion) and Michigan ($10 billion).

We have not neglected the task of gathering new data. Led by my colleague Kasia Tarczynska, our effort to find new online and unpublished data has during these past three months resulted in 13,000 new listings, bringing our total to 258,000. Kasia is getting ready to implement a plan for systematically filing FOIA requests for missing data with state and key local agencies.

NEW CUMULATIVE SUMMARY DATA FOR SUBSIDY TRACKER PARENT COMPANIES

Top Parent Companies:

  • Boeing: $13.2 billion
  • Alcoa: $5.6 billion
  • Intel: $3.9 billion
  • General Motors: $3.6 billion
  • Ford Motor: $2.5 billion

Top Industry Groups:

  • Aerospace & military contracting: $14.3 billion
  • Motor vehicles: $13.9 billion
  • Steel & other metals: $8.2 billion
  • Semiconductors: $5.7 billion
  • Oil & gas: $5.3 billion

Top States Based on the Location of Parent Company Headquarters:

  • Illinois: $16.2 billion
  • New York: $13.6 billion
  • Michigan: $8.4 billion
  • California: $8.0 billion
  • Texas: $4.5 billion

Foreign Countries Whose Companies have Received the Most Subsidies for their U.S. Affiliates:

  • Japan: $5.3 billion
  • Germany: $2.4 billion
  • Netherlands: $2.2 billion
  • Italy: $2.1 billion
  • Canada: $1.8 billion

Subsidy Tracker 2.0 has a wealth of new information. Check it out today.

Rhode Island Considers Defaulting on Bonds for Notorious 38 Studios Deal

May 22, 2014
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The aftermath of Rhode Island’s biggest economic development scandal isn’t over yet. In 2010 the state’s privatized economic development agency loaned 38 Studios—a video game company founded by former major league pitcher Curt Schilling—some $75 million in subsidies which the state borrowed to provide. The firm soon failed, apparently leaving taxpayers with an obligation that has risen to $89 million (with interest), including a $12.3 million payment due next year.

Those payments are now in question. Rhode Island’s House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has scheduled meetings with Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s to discuss the consequences of failing to pay. While these bonds are not backed by the full faith and credit of Rhode Island, a previous consultant to the state made dire warnings about failure to pay, claiming that the move would degrade Rhode Island to junk bond status.

Mattiello became Speaker two months ago after the FBI raided the office of his predecessor Gordon Fox, who had played a significant role in approving the loan to 38 Studios. According to recent news reports, Fox’s lawyer moved to quash a subpoena for documents related to 38 Studios, citing his client’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. No charges have been filed pursuant to the raid.

Fox also had connections to a Providence lawyer named Michael Corso, who was involved with the 38 Studios deal.  Leaked documents show that Corso was paid $300,000 by 38 Studios to interact with state agencies and officials. Additional revelations show Corso was paid $485 an hour by 38 Studios to evaluate potential incentives for the company. Corso failed to register as a lobbyist on behalf of 38 Studios. This revelation launched an additional investigation this May by State Police into potential lobbying violations.

Corso is also a tax-credit broker. His company, Preservation Credit Fund, had a contract with 38 Studios to allow it to sell tax credits secured by the company. According to Corso’s LinkedIn page, “Preservation Credit Fund works closely with developers and advisors to maximize tax credit benefits, advise on tax credit issues and provide syndication services.” Corso has been dubbed the state’s leading film tax credit broker and has even claimed to be the primary draftsperson of Rhode Island’s Historic Preservation Tax Credit.

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In another strange development, the state recently hired First Southwest, a financial adviser it is simultaneously suing for “fraud, negligence, and legal malpractice” in connection with the 38 Studios loan. According to the state’s lawsuit and reported by the Providence Journal, First Southwest was paid $120,000 to pitch the 38 Studios’ loan subsidy to the privatized economic development agency’s board of directors and bond rating agencies.  The lawsuit accuses First Southwest of withholding vital information about the deal, primarily that the company was under-capitalized, thus making the loan appear less risky than it was. The company denies these allegations. New emails made public this week reveal internal discussions amongst 38 Studios executives about downplaying the under-capitalization issue.

It is a little-known fact that states and cities sometimes cover debt obligations for failed or troubled economic development transactions (including tax increment financing districts), even though they are not technically obligated to do so. But the fear of paying usurious interest rates on future deals causes them to reluctantly pay. Good Jobs First has observed that in the Great Recession, some development agencies apparently became very lax in their deal-vetting standards, as politicians were desperate to appear aggressive on jobs.  For performance-based subsidies, at least taxpayers won’t suffer from such deals; but when public debt is floated on insufficient collateral, as in the Studio 38 deal, taxpayers stand to suffer no matter what Rhode Island officials decide to do.

It’s a Teachable Moment about celebrity entrepreneurs, tax-credit consultants, and anxious politicians.