Archive for the ‘Hidden Taxpayer Costs’ Category

K.C. Business Leaders Demand Cease-Fire on Wasteful Job Poaching

April 15, 2011

In an incredibly rapid private-sector response to our April Fool’s Day gag about that wonderful 50-state jobs truce, 17 prominent Kansas City-area business executives issued a letter this week urging the governors of Missouri and Kansas to stop offering subsidies to companies that are jumping the state line to create “new” jobs (no kidding!)

According to the Kansas City Star, the letter was not initiated by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. A spokesperson for Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback basically said that state would press on. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is currently trying to convince AMC Entertainment not to jump the state line.

The paper also reported that the job-poaching wars have gotten worse since Kansas enacted a subsidy that allows employers to keep the personal income taxes of their employees (yes, you read that right), but then Kansas reportedly did that to defend itself against a similar Missouri giveaway…

Aside from the K.C. business leaders naïvely referring to their “unique bi-state community” (they’ve apparently not heard about New Jersey and Connecticut pirating New York City, or various Western states plundering Southern California, or northwest Indiana raiding Chicago, or [insert your favorite border job-war here], the letter is a lucid statement of the problem (if not a real solution). I especially like their point: “The losers are the taxpayers who must provide services to those who are not paying for them.”

And contrary to the tone of a similarly naïve piece about Kansas City-area job wars that recently ran in the New York Times, there is hardly anything new about this problem. Indeed, some people would date it to the 1937 birth in New York City of the Fantus Factory Locating Service, the grand-daddy of the secretive, powerful site location consulting industry.

Read this letter!

Apr. 11, 2011

Letter from KC area business leaders to Missouri, Kansas governors on ‘economic border war’

This letter to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon was signed by 17 of the area’s top business executives: David Beaham of Faultless Starch/Bon Ami; Michael J. Chesser of Great Plains Energy; Ellen Z. Darling of Zimmer Real Estate Services; Peter J. deSilva of UMB Bank; David Gentile of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City; Greg M. Graves of Burns & McDonnell; Donald J. Hall Jr. of Hallmark Cards; Michael R. Haverty of Kansas City Southern; Daniel R. Hesse of Sprint Nextel; L. Patrick James of Quest Diagnostics; A. Drue Jennings, formerly of Kansas City Power & Light; Mark R. Jorgenson of U.S. Bank; Jonathan Kemper of Commerce Bank; Thomas A. McDonnell of DST Systems; Michael Merriman of Americo Life; Robert D. Regnier of Bank of Blue Valley; and Kent W. Sunderland of Ash Grove Cement.

Dear Governor Brownback and Governor Nixon:

The Kansas City community is experiencing an economic border war. State incentives are being used to lure businesses back and forth across the state line with no net economic gain to the community as a whole and a resulting erosion of the area’s tax base. We are asking that you direct your Departments of Commerce to develop parallel legislation to reduce this unproductive use of tax incentives. While your departments work on this legislation, we ask that you both mutually agree to a bilateral halt to the issuance of incentives for business relocations between the two states within the Greater Kansas City area. We recognize that previously offered commitments should be honored and retention efforts and job training efforts should go forward. Let us give you more detail.

Both states offer competitive incentives for attracting new businesses. We support these incentives. We know they are necessary to compete with other states. We believe these incentives were intended to attract businesses and new jobs from outside the state or region. However, because of our unique bi-state community, too often these incentives are being used to shuffle existing business back and forth across the state line with no net economic benefit or new jobs to the community as a whole. At a time of severe fiscal constraint the effect to the states is that one state loses tax revenue, while the other forgives it. The states are being pitted against each other and the only real winner is the business who is “incentive shopping” to reduce costs. The losers are the taxpayers who must provide services to those who are not paying for them.

There are companies taking out short-term leases in hopes of taking advantage of the incentives more than once. This shuffle is a two-way street as one state lures businesses and the other responds in kind. Neither state will benefit as the stakes in this “economic arms race” continue to escalate, and we squander available tax incentives by fighting amongst ourselves.

Further, the effect of this economic border war is not only erosion of the tax base but a decrease in property values, and the chilling of community relationships on other important metropolitan issues.
We applaud an aggressive economic development effort by both states. However, we should measure success by new businesses and jobs from outside this area and the state, not from across the street. We need to compete with others … not each other.

We believe the directors of the Department of Commerce should examine the definition of “new jobs” for the granting of incentives. “New jobs” should be redefined to exclude jobs attracted to the states from counties bordering the state line in the Greater Kansas City SMSA and counties contiguous to those counties.

Greater Kansas City is unique in having a community equally divided between two states. Our community is interdependent. To compete we must cooperate. The use of these incentives is vital to attract new businesses to our region. We can’t grow this community if we’re using our incentives to steal from each other instead of attracting real new economic growth.

We ask that each state examine how incentives can be better used to grow our economy, and while that is being done, declare a moratorium on the use of incentives for relocations between states within the Greater Kansas City area. We do encourage continuing programs for job retention and job training that advance or maintain economic activity.

Thank you for your consideration.

Colorado Proposal Would “STIF” Taxpayers

March 4, 2011

Buckingham Square Mall, Aurora, Colorado

The Colorado Senate is evaluating a risky new development subsidy proposal that passed in the House last week.  House Bill 1220 would, for the first time, allow the diversion of incremental state sales tax revenues to back bonds used to finance road construction for new retail projects.  Specifically, the bill would permit sales tax increment financing (STIF) to be used for projects that have been approved by the state department of transportation but lack dedicated state funding to secure federal highway matching funds.

The policy problems inherent in this bill are many.  STIF is designed to subsidize retail projects, ignoring the fact that they are not a very effective form of economic development.  Building new stores doesn’t grow the economy – it only shifts consumer spending from one place to another.  Providing subsidies to move low-wage retail jobs around a metro area is a waste of taxpayer funds.  The East-West Gateway Council of Governments (St. Louis metro region) found in its January 2011 study that the region had spent $4.6 billion subsidizing retail development between 1990 and 2007.  During that period, 5,700 new retail jobs were created in the metro area, at an apparent cost of $370,000 per job.

STIF makes a poor economic development tool for other reasons as well.  Sales tax receipts are unpredictable, especially during leaner economic periods.  Determining the value of the incremental increase in sales tax revenues is nearly impossible if assessors attempt to estimate how much retail spending is “new” and how much was merely cannibalized from nearby retail establishments.  STIF also promotes the fiscalization of land use—the unwise practice of letting tax revenue considerations control planning decisions.  California repealed STIF in 1993 to avoid this problem.  Colorado’s proposal is worse because it would only subsidize new retail developments that rely on highway access, making it biased against existing retailers in urban centers.

Another important consideration is that Colorado can’t afford to sacrifice the existing sales tax revenues that it would lose to STIF-subsidized development.  As a TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) state, Colorado cannot raise new revenues without statewide voter approval.  This is likely the reason that the development lobby is seeking this subsidy in the first place.  As a result of the economic recession and TABOR, Colorado’s fiscal crisis is so dire that the state cannot afford to fund highway transportation projects despite the fact that federal matching funds are on the table.

HB 1220 would sidestep the appropriations process for funding highway construction, shortchange the state’s sales tax revenue collection, subsidize the relocation of low-wage jobs in suburban fringe areas, and contribute to the growing list of dead malls in Colorado.

Tough Love for California TIF

February 25, 2011

California Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing extraordinary revenue- raising plans to tackle the state’s $28 billion budget deficit.  The Brown Administration has proposed that the state dissolve the state’s community redevelopment agencies (CRAs), regional quasi-public bodies charged with administering redevelopment dollars.  Tax increment financing (TIF – the mechanism through which redevelopment is funded) is an enormous expense in California, representing $5.8 billion in diverted tax revenues a year.  The current proposal would retire current redevelopment debts with agencies’ existing funds, allowing the $1.7 billion to be applied towards the state budget.  Remaining funds would be returned to local governments and school districts.

Unlike the Enterprise Zone program, also slated for elimination by the Brown Administration, redevelopment in California actually does provide some clear benefits to the state.  TIF plays a significant role in providing affordable housing in California:  twenty percent of all TIF revenues must be set aside for affordable housing projects.  When properly harnessed, redevelopment can spur equitable revitalization.  Some of the most successful community benefits agreements in the country come from Los Angeles, where LAANE and other organizations have leveraged redevelopment funds to provide good jobs and affordable housing to underserved communities.   Madeline Janis, executive director of LAANE, Vice Chair of the Los Angeles CRA Board, and board member of Good Jobs First has argued that reform – not elimination – of CRAs is the best way to advance economic recovery in the state.

Reform would help to address the overuse of redevelopment dollars in California.  A February report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office found that CRAs in some counties have created so many projects that more than 25 percent of all property tax revenue is allocated to the agency.  One needs to look no further for examples of irresponsible use of TIF funds than San Jose and Oakland.  Both cities are scrambling to assemble and approve new subsidized professional sports stadium plans before the state can move to recapture redevelopment funds.  Cities throughout California are moving decisively to spend or otherwise encumber their accumulated redevelopment funds.

California’s $28 billion budget gap is unparalleled, but budget pressures are bringing tough love to the economic development-industrial complex around the country.  Getting back to basics is critical. Programs that pay companies to do what they would have done anyway – that fail to meet the definition of the word incentive, that don’t correct market failures – are deservedly vulnerable.  It’s only fair, given deep cuts being proposed for aid to children, seniors, students and the unemployed.

Bay State Joins Transparency Bandwagon

August 4, 2010

MassPIRG, Common Cause Massachusetts, and One Massachusetts recently scored a major victory for spending transparency.  Two major reforms were enacted with the passage of the state’s FY2011 Budget.  The first is the creation of a checkbook-style “Google government” transparency site for the state that will allow citizens to view and monitor state spending by public and quasi-public entities.  The addition of this transparency site to Massachusetts’ contract disclosure site and its Recovery Act transparency site creates a strong foundation for enhancing spending accountability.

The second reform enacted with the state budget is the requirement that the new transparency site disclose the names of recipients of certain types of business tax credit subsidies.   Refundable tax credits (credits for which any amount exceeding the recipient’s tax liability is issued as a cash grant) and salable and transferable tax credits (credits that may be sold or transferred to other business entities when their value exceeds the original recipient’s tax liability) will be more transparent under this new law.

Among the business subsidy programs that will now be publicy disclosed in Massachusetts are brownfields tax credits, film tax credits, refundable research credits, and the controversial Economic Development Incentive Program tax credit.  The names of recipients of these credits, the value of the credits, and the date that the credits are issued must now be disclosed on the new spending transparency site.

With this reform, Massachusetts joins Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and a host of other states already benefiting from the increased accountability company-specific disclosure brings to state economic development spending.  We look forward to more transparency and accountability reforms as Recovery Act transparency practices continue to influence state spending.

Congratulations to MassPIRG and its allies on their great victory for transparency.   Good Jobs First is currently in the process of updating its 50-state evaluation of state economic development subsidy disclosure practices.  We look forward to sharing our findings this fall.  In the meantime, see Naming Tax Credit Names for a list of states that disclose the value and recipients of corporate income tax credit job subsidies.

NYC Considers Big Subsidy Packages for Thriving Firms While Cutting Vital Services for Poorest Residents

July 16, 2010

Later this month, the New York City Industrial Development Agency will consider lucrative subsidy packages for two of the world’s largest corporations: “big four” accounting firm Deloitte, LLP, and Thomson Reuters, a multimedia news and information provider. Meanwhile, despite recent reports of an improving unemployment rate, 385,000 New Yorkers are still jobless—twice as many as there were two years ago—and in the name of budget crisis, the city is slashing critical services for its poorest residents, from seniors and children to those with HIV/AIDS.

Why are these profitable firms up for tax breaks when everyone else is forced to sacrifice and there’s no guarantee these subsidies will create jobs for those who need them most?

Even in good times, there would be ample reason to question the wisdom of these deals. Let’s begin with Deloitte: The firm wants taxpayers to finance what amounts to a reshuffling of space in Lower Manhattan—a move from 2 World Financial Center, where it currently subleases space from Merrill Lynch, to 4 World Financial Center. (Bank of America acquired Merrill in 2008, and both firms have received hefty subsidies from the city and state.) Deloitte has allegedly been considering leaving the Financial Center in favor of other locations within the city. The company already received a $14 million cash grant under a program the state created to retain large businesses in Lower Manhattan after 9/11, not to mention millions in BEIP subsidies in 2008 from neighboring New Jersey. It is also likely that Deloitte received—or will receive as a result of its impending move—generous benefits from the Lower Manhattan Relocation and Employment Assistance Program, though the city withholds the names of participating businesses under a “tax secrecy” provision.

It’s also worth noting that Deloitte benefits from contracts worth tens of millions of dollars with New York City and state (not an unusual arrangement), and even has an office on the 6th floor of the city’s Municipal Building. The issue of double dipping aside, the potential for corruption should be of concern. Last fall, Pennsylvania’s Auditor General found that Deloitte was being awarded subsidies from the very entities it was auditing. While there’s no evidence that this is the case in NYC, Deloitte’s business practices in other contexts should be taken into account.

IDA is also considering a proposal to allow media giant Thomson Reuters to steer unused subsidies from a 1998 agreement toward seven new locations in Manhattan. This might not sound so bad, except that the only information the public has to evaluate this proposal, an IDA Annual Report from 2005, shows that Reuters failed to meet job targets. It also shows that the company only used $2.4 million out of $26 million in subsidies. The public deserves the latest data on the true value of the remaining subsidy, Reuters’ employment record in the city since 2005, and the impact of its 2009 merger with Thomson Media on its job figures. IDA will release project details a week prior to the July 29th public hearing, but whether these and other critical questions will be answered remains to be seen.

Adding to the issues with the Thomson Reuters deal, the Newspaper Guild of New York has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board charging that the company plans to cut wages of reporters and other employees by an average of 10 percent this year without the union’s consent. Reuters denies this claim, but at the very least no subsidies should be considered until this dispute is resolved.

Both the Deloitte and Thomson Reuters deals are rife with transparency and accountability issues—not to mention Deloitte’s deep connection to the Wall Street crowd that got us into the economic crisis in the first place. This would be unacceptable even in good times. But with our most vulnerable residents set to suffer even more as the city and state retrench, New Yorkers should be especially outraged.

Naming Tax Credit Names

June 15, 2010

Corporate lobbyists have long blown a fog of fear, disinformation and confusion about public disclosure of corporate income tax credits.

It’s time to clear the air.

First, a definition: corporate income tax credits are dollar-for-dollar reductions in the amount of income tax a company pays to a state (or federal) government. A company can earn such credits by performing activities deemed to constitute economic development, such as making capital investments in new capacity, performing research and development, hiring new employees, and/or producing movies or commercials.

These credits are very costly; among economic development tax breaks, they are likely the fastest-growing revenue drain on state budgets over the past decade. For example, one state gives a credit of 5 percent per year for 20 years for new capital investment. That is, if a company has enough taxable income, over time, the state will pay the entire cost of a new facility in foregone corporate income taxes.

Corporate lobbyists would have us believe that letting taxpayers see which company is getting these credits, and the dollar value of the credits, would somehow violate confidentiality or poison the “business climate.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. (Of course, we also need disclosure of outcomes: were the jobs created? How well do they pay? Do they have health care?)

I offer two kinds of evidence: 1) almost every other costly economic development subsidy has been disclosed for decades; and 2) many states have been disclosing corporate income tax credits for years, and there is no evidence they suffered any “business climate” harm.

First, regarding other costly subsidies: If a company gets a property tax abatement or reduction, there’s a public record at the county tax assessor’s office. If a company gets an Industrial Revenue Bond, that’s an open record at the county development authority. If a company gets a training grant, that is visible at the Workforce Investment Board. If a company benefits from being in a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district, copious records enter the public domain. If a company gets a discretionary or competitive grant, those files are usually very public.

So what’s the big deal about income tax credits? Remember: this is not about disclosing tax returns; this is about disclosing tax breaks.

Second, regarding states that have been disclosing corporate income tax credits (naming the company, specifying the dollar value of the credit), just take a look at this quick sampling our staff threw together in an afternoon:

Connecticut – see pages 406-407 re: urban/industrial and job creation tax credits

Florida – Qualified Target Industry Refund

Illinois – numerous tax credits and exemptions, including EDGE

Maryland – film, biotech, job creation, and research and development credits

Missouri – 20 different economic development programs, including film credits

Montana – Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program

New Jersey’s BRRAG Program

North Carolina – William S. Lee tax credits

Pennsylvania — more than 200 programs, including film and enterprise zone credits

Wisconsin — 107 programs, including film investment, film services, and dairy credits

Other states, such as Maine (since 1999) have been collecting and disclosing tax credit data, but they just haven’t put them online yet (the 21st century progresses slowly…)

The list will soon get longer. Subsidy disclosure bills are getting introduced more frequently in state legislatures, and they often call for making public the names of corporate tax-credit recipients. This year, Massachusetts enacted a law that will do so, and several other states took a step in this direction by mandating the publication of tax-expenditure budgets that show the total cost of tax credit programs.

Bottom line: the amount of company-specific tax credit data online is exploding. Anyone who claims it will violate confidentiality or hurt the business climate, well, that’s just so 20th century!

Heads up to state commerce secretaries: in the same way we have twice graded the states’ Recovery Act websites, we are coming back at you to rate how well you disclose on major subsidy programs, revisiting our State of State Disclosure report of 2007.

No calls, please; that’s all the hints you get.

Chicago Cuts Checks to Corporations, Not Schools Lacking Teachers

October 1, 2009

Chicago’s Mayor Richard M. Daley recently added insult to injury by awarding additional funds in a relocation deal for United Airlines. Daley gave another $10 million in subsidies –on top of the $25.9 million in TIF monies we previously reported– bringing the total two-year subsidy from the city of Chicago to United Airline’s parent company to $50 million. Politicians often claim that TIF and other development subsidies cannot distress budgets. If this were true, why are crucial city services being cut concurrent to lavish subsidies being given?

When tax base is diverted, other city services must be paid for either by raising new taxes or reducing existing services. Chicago Public Schools just passed a draconian budget that slashes teacher benefits. Experts point out that TIF has skimmed at least $500 million away from school tax revenues. Listen to neighborhood residents speak out against TIF diversion.

What is the result of these perennial budget issues linked to TIF diversion? This September students started school without teachers in neighborhoods with significant achievement gaps. Three weeks into the school year, students still lacked permanent teachers. At the same time, however, the city of Chicago had no qualms about giving a private interest another $10 million.

Bad Development Policy “Impacting” Cities During Recession

September 16, 2009

suburban tractAccording to a recent article, cities all over the country are engaging in a new disturbing trend as a response to stagnant new construction.  Marin, California; Manatee, Florida; Meridian, Idaho and Albuquerque, New Mexico are among a growing number of cities that have chosen to reduce, suspend, or cancel development impact fees, the charges imposed on new development by local governments to offset the cost of growth.  Impact fees pay for critical municipal services such as schools, infrastructure, and police and fire protection.  In 2008, the average fee for a single family residential unit was over $11,000.

The problem faced by developers in these cities is not that the cost of home construction is too high.  The problem is weak demand for new homes.  Further subsidizing new development will not address the problem of demand.  Eliminating impact fees is not going to jump start cities and towns out of economic recession.  It will only further burden local budgets and taxpayers at a time that they can scarcely afford it.

Brooklyn Activists Fight Use of Stimulus Bonds for Gentrification Plan

September 8, 2009

Thanks to the federal stimulus bill, a new tax-exempt bond has hit the market: “Recovery Zone Facility Bonds” (RZFBs). And while that phrase might make your eyes glaze over, keep reading, because initial indicators of how these bonds might be allocated in New York City are cause for heightened alert.

RZFBs are one of several new bond programs created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). As the name suggests, they must be used for projects within designated “recovery zones,” the boundaries of which are determined by the bond issuer (in New York State this means Industrial Development Agencies) based on indicators of “economic distress.”

RZFBs are a type of private activity bond that make commercial and industrial projects easier to finance because the bondholder does not have to pay federal, state, or local taxes on interest generated by the deal, and is thus willing to accept a lower interest rate.

It’s difficult to evaluate the RZFB program so far because states across the country—including New York—are still grappling with how to take advantage of it. New York City is the exception. The Bloomberg Administration has started things off with a bang by selecting a controversial project in downtown Brooklyn called “City Point” to receive financing through these new bonds. If the deal goes down, City Point developer Albee LLC would receive $20 million in tax-free financing for a shopping mall that will likely be anchored by a big box store such as Target.

This isn’t the first round of public money sought by this project—subsidies were approved in 2007, but then fell through due to difficulty in securing financing after the economic meltdown. Now, Albee LLC is looking to the stimulus bill for help.

Advocacy groups on the ground, led by Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE), are experiencing déja-vu. Having resisted the 2007 deal, they will oppose this round of subsidies on many of the same grounds at a public hearing scheduled for September 10. But they will have plenty to beef about without reminding the city that the site was home to the old Albee Square Mall, which was demolished in 2007 to make way for City Point. That demolition displaced scores of longtime local business that catered mostly to Brooklyn’s black community. Those stores were at odds with the city’s vision of a newly gentrified downtown, which favors chains like H&M and Bed Bath and Beyond. None of the displaced businesses were given the option to return once the new facility is built, and no requirements for local hiring or living-wage jobs were tied to the 2007 deal, despite fervent protest.

This history lesson should be the backdrop to the bigger question of whether retail development should ever receive public financing. Asking whether more Targets and Wal-Marts are really what so-called distressed communities really need is not a radical question at this point. It is well established that such economic development strategies amount to a subsidization of poverty, since retail jobs are among the lowest-paid. As an alternative, FUREE is pushing for an affordable grocery store in downtown Brooklyn, which is lacking in healthy food options.

Good Jobs New York is keeping an eye on the City Point project, as more communities across the country recognize the dangers of subsidies for retail development, and are organizing to avoid them. There may be a bright spot to this story in the Bronx: The Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment plan—also slated to receive public subsidies—is emerging as a model of how development in New York City might be done. Due to effective community organizing, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz recently announced his commitment to signing a Community Benefits Agreement with the developer that includes a living wage, local hiring and community space among a long list of points. So stay tuned!

Note: This item is crossposted on the Good Jobs First’s STAR Coalition blog. (more…)

Tax Expenditure Reporting – An Essential Policy Tool

April 21, 2009

According to a new report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, nine states are leaving lawmakers in the dark by failing to publish any sort of tax expenditure report. This group includes: Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Indiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Wyoming. The report notes that even among those states that do publish tax expenditure reports, most have major gaps in information.

CBPP explains how a well designed and properly implemented tax expenditure report is an essential policy tool. It recommends that all state taxes are included, and stresses that reports should be published regularly, incorporated into the budget process, and available online. Armed with a better understanding of the true cost and effect of tax expenditures, lawmakers can make more informed spending decisions.

In Georgia, one of the nine states failing to publish a tax expenditure report, the House of Representatives is currently considering a bill that would lead to greater transparency and accountability in state tax policy. Senate Bill 206, which passed the Senate in early March, would require tax expenditure review as part of state budget reports. The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI), a member of both the SFAI and EARN networks, supports this bill. According to GBPI Executive Director Alan Essig, “The bipartisan support for SB 206 shows that the principles of good government are held by both political parties…Although there may be honorable disagreements over policy, there is agreement that policy decisions should be made based on accurate and timely information. SB 206 gives policy makers such information.”

The Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts and the Pew Center of the States (PCS) also support SB 206. PCS, a division of the Pew Charitable Trusts, has partnered with the state of Georgia for a year-long program to strengthen government policy and performance by building a system to analyze state spending data.