Tesla Open Letter Electrifies Gigafactory Debate

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Early this week Good Jobs First joined its voice with those of progressive organizations in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Texas to express concerns about the pending subsidy bidding war over Tesla’s proposed Gigafactory.  In case you missed it, an open letter signed by Arizona PIRG, the California Budget Project, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN), New Mexico’s SouthWest Organizing Project, Texans for Public Justice  and Good Jobs First regarding the multi-state competition has been generating growing media attention.  The letter calls for state leaders to seize the opportunity presented by Tesla’s subsidy demands, communicate with each other, and reject the harmful Race to the Bottom.

Much of our daily work at Good Jobs First consists of monitoring massive subsidy packages that often don’t receive much attention in the media.  But events like the Gigafactory bidding war provide an opportunity to break down these complicated issues into smaller pieces that allow a practical public dialogue about job creation, competition, and fairness.

If the growing media coverage of our open letter is any indication, people have been waiting for a vehicle to talk about these issues.  The Tesla competition has allowed stakeholders in all five states an opportunity to express their concerns about business subsidies to their lawmakers as well as be heard by sympathetic ears outside their states.   “We are asking for more transparency, to talk and avoid this hypercompetitive race to the bottom,” Bob Fulkerson of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada reasoned in an interview with the Reno Gazette Journal.

Chris Hoene of the California Budget Project appealed to fairness: “Why should Gov. Brown (California) and Gov. (Rick) Perry in Texas be acquiescing to the demands of one particular company? They’re running states with multibillion-dollar economies, with much more important issues to be addressed,” he told the Desert Sun.  The subsidy-favoritism angle was also seized upon by conservative columnist Timothy P. Carney, who Tweeted “Two cheers for the Left…” to promote his glibly titled piece “Progressives, for a change, take lead in opposing corporate welfare (for Tesla)” in the Washington Examiner.

In New Mexico, Javier Benavidez of the SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP) warned the Santa Fe New Mexican about the risks inherent in major economic development subsidies:  “We’re very pro job growth, but these deals don’t always pan out.”   The U.S. Public Interest Research Group echoed SWOP’s caution in Arizona, stressing the need for taxpayer protections.  “Let’s make sure that whatever state ends up with this, however the process is, the company is held accountable for actually delivering on the promises that it’s making,” said Phineas Baxandall.

What began as regional print coverage has developed into a national controversy covered by USA Today, CNBC, CBS News, The Fiscal Times, the Christian Science Monitor and other outlets that have the ability to depict this competition for what it is – symbolic of a multi-state problem in need of a multi-state solution.  The country needs journalists, lawmakers, and the public to engage in a dialogue about how we will together level the playing field for all businesses, how to best pursue economic growth, and at what cost.  At Good Jobs First, we hope the national conversation continues.  It’s past due.

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