Archive for the ‘Taxes’ Category

States Shine More Light on Tax Spending

May 19, 2011

The CBPP map shows states that do not have tax expenditure reporting (in red) and states that do not include important information in their reports (in orange).

States are doing a better job in letting the public know how much tax revenue is being lost through special credits, deductions, and exemptions, according to a new report on tax expenditure budgets released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

Over the last two years, CBPP notes, two more states–New Jersey and Georgia–passed legislation requiring tax expenditure reviews, decreasing the number of states that do not report on the issue to seven (Alabama, Alaska, Indiana, Nevada, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Wyoming). At the same time, the Center finds, states such as Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont as well as Washington, DC have improved the quality of their reporting.

The news is not all positive. CBPP points out that the tax expenditure budgets of 18 states are still deficient. Out of 44 states that have some kind of reporting system (counting Washington, DC as a state), ten do not report on major categories of tax spending and six do not release reports at least every other year. Two states, Arkansas and New Hampshire, don’t bother to put their reports online.

CBPP offers a good list of best practices for tax expenditure budgets. These include putting the reports online; including all tax expenditures, even small ones or those that affect few taxpayers; describing the types of taxpayers that benefit from each tax expenditure; and explaining the purpose of the various categories.

The CBPP report comes at a time when the issue of tax expenditures is receiving growing attention at both the federal and state levels. The first step in addressing the issue is knowing how much these practices really cost, and that makes the need for thorough tax expenditure budgets all the more urgent.

NYC Living Wage Debate Boils Over, Into the Streets and before City Council

May 17, 2011

It’s budget season in New York City, when community groups and labor unions usually take to the streets to protest proposed budgets and this year proposals including teacher layoffs and social service cuts was a serious call to action. But marchers also had an added demand: a living wage at subsidized companies.  May 12 was planned as a day of action; it also was the day the New York City Council Committee on Contracts held a public hearing on the proposed “Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act”. The bill would require firms that receive certain economic development subsidies to pay a “Living Wage” of $10.00 an hour or $11.50 an hour if no benefits are provided.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg opposes the bill and the Speaker of the City Council Christine Quinn is undecided but the momentum is building with 30 co-sponsors (out of 51 members). The bill excludes many small businesses and only covers some subsidy programs. (more…)

New Jersey’s $1 Billion Subsidy Spree

May 4, 2011

Xanadu, an "offense to the eyes."

According to a new report released last week by New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP), a nonpartisan policy research center based in Trenton, Gov. Christie’s administration has awarded $822 million in economic development subsidies in its first 15 months in office.  A Surge in Subsidies documents the recent torrent of tax credit and grants awarded by the Economic Development Authority at a time when the state is slashing budget items for education, health, and social services.

NJPP examined just four of the state’s many economic development subsidy programs.  The controversial Business Employment Incentive Program redirects the personal income tax withholding of employees to participating businesses.  The recently enacted Economic Redevelopment and Growth Grant (ERG) program has been used to approve awards totaling an astounding $351 million in diverted tax increments to New Jersey companies since February of 2010.  Once laudable for its geographic targeting, the Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit is now used so extensively that it is poised to become a major revenue drain for the state.

Despite abundant criticism of recent deals such as the state’s decision to bail out a casino owned by Morgan Stanley ($261 million through ERG) and $101 million to relocate Panasonic’s North American headquarters just eight miles, New Jersey continues to dole out major subsidies.  Gov. Christie once called the stalled Xanadu mall project “an offense to the eyes as you drive up the turnpike.”  Now, he favors a $200 million tax break to rescue the project.

NJPP president Deborah Howlett notes that the Xanadu subsidy brings the 16-month subsidy spending total to over $1 billion, yet “all of that spending to spur job creation has had almost no effect on the unemployment rate.”

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.

Subsidizing State Tax Avoidance

April 13, 2011

Tax Day arrives this year amid a growing outcry over tax avoidance by large corporations such as General Electric.  Corporate tax dodging, however, is not only about the offshore havens and accounting loopholes that GE’s 975-person tax department exploits to the max.  It’s also about economic development subsidies.

The vast majority of “incentive” dollars that state and local governments provide to companies in the name of job creation consist of tax breaks: property tax abatements, corporate income tax credits, sales tax exemptions and rebates, etc.

Business apologists would have us believe that such tax deals encourage companies to increase their investments and their hiring, resulting in higher tax collections. However, too many subsidies are structured “as of right,“ making them windfalls that pay companies to do what they would have done anyway. And as the growing numbers of clawback episodes tell us, many companies end up not hiring as many people as they promise when negotiating the deals. Subsidy deals are often so lavish that, even at a higher level of business activity, the tax obligations of the recipients remain artificially low.

To illustrate this, here are three examples of prosperous companies that are frequent subsidy recipients and are paying meager amounts in state and local taxes (as reported in the notes to their recently published 2010 financial statements).


Intel Corporation

State taxes: The semiconductor giant reports that it paid only $51 million in state and local taxes in 2010, which is less than one percent (0.37 percent to be more exact) of its $13.9 billion in pretax U.S. profits. In the previous two years it reported negative amounts, meaning that it received net refunds.

Subsidies: Intel is one of the most aggressive companies in the nation when it comes to seeking giant subsidy deals and preferential tax treatment. It has obtained hundreds of millions of dollars in property tax abatements and sales tax exemptions in states such as Arizona, New Mexico and Oregon when building its large chip fabrication plants and has successfully campaigned in various states for the adoption of a corporate income tax computation system known as Single Sales Factor, thereby avoiding many millions more in tax payments.

A great deal of the taxes that Intel has avoided should have gone to pay for schools. Brazenly ignoring his company’s contribution to the problem, former Intel chief executive Craig Barrett recently criticized Arizona’s educational system, saying it is so weak that it inhibits the attraction of new business.


Boeing Company

State taxes: The aerospace leader reports that it expects to receive a net tax refund of $137 million from state and local governments for 2010, despite earning more than $4 billion in U.S. pretax profits for the year. For the past three years combined, Boeing’s total state and local net tax bill was only $28 million on domestic pretax profits amounting to $9.7 billion—a rate of less than one-third of one percent.

Subsidies: Boeing rivals Intel in its unrelenting quest for tax breaks. Although Washington had long been the company’s manufacturing base, in 2003 Boeing let it be known that it would build its new Dreamliner aircraft somewhere else if the state did not approve what turned out to be a 20-year, $3.2 billion package of tax credits and abatements. Despite that concession, when it came time to build a second Dreamliner production line, Boeing chose to locate it in South Carolina after that state provided a subsidy package that is estimated to be worth more than $900 million.


Cabela’s Inc.

State taxes: For 2010 Cabela’s expects to pay less than one million dollars ($769,000 to be exact) in state and local taxes. That represents not even one half of one percent of the company’s $167 million in pretax profits.

Subsidies: Cabela’s is a much smaller company than Intel and Boeing, but it is the largest retailer focused on hunting and fishing gear and other outdoor sporting goods. It has used its popularity to drive hard bargains with nearly all of the roughly 30 localities where it has built its big-box stores. The company has received subsidy packages totaling more than $500 million for its outlets, which it promotes as tourist attractions (its taxidermy displays are sometimes legally structured as museum condominiums, making those portions of the stores exempt from property taxes). In its financial reports Cabela’s acknowledges that these deals are an essential part of its business plan. Local officials, however, have sometimes found that the new sales tax revenues generated by the giant stores have fallen short of levels projected to justify the subsidies.


Big Picture: Burden Shift

Intel, Boeing and Cabela’s are just a few of the many large corporations getting lucrative subsidy deals that minimize their state tax bills. The aggregate effects of this and other sorts of business-oriented fiscal policies are dramatic. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, corporate income tax payments contributed only 5.4 percent of total state tax collections last year, down from nearly 10 percent in 1980. This trend is a significant factor in state budget deficits.

When large corporations pay less, households and small businesses have to pay more, or the quality of schools and other public services declines, or some of both. Something to think about as you prepare your state tax return.

Note: We follow the lead of Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy in considering only the reported figures for current income taxes, ignoring the deferred amounts.

Public Employees and the Public Interest

February 25, 2011

Chicago Tribune, January 29, 1900

Well before Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker began his unholy crusade, the Right was heavily promoting its claim that public employee unions are a threat to the public. The title of a 2009 book by conservative ideologue Steven Greenhut said it all: Plunder! How Public Employee Unions are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation.

What the union bashers are trying to obscure is that public employees have a long history of supporting policies that promote the broad public interest. This goes back to the very roots of the public employee union movement.

In the 1890s teachers in Chicago created a federation that became the first real teachers union and one of the pioneers of public employee unionism in general. When the federation, led by Margaret Haley and Catherine Goggin (illustration), was confronted with a move by the board of education to cut teacher salaries because of a purported fiscal crisis, the teachers responded to the claim of a revenue shortfall in a creative way. They launched an intensive investigation of tax dodging by some of the largest corporations in the city, finding that property tax underpayments amounted to some $4 million a year (serious money back then).

Tax officials were reluctant to crack down on powerful business interests, so the teachers sued, eventually winning a favorable ruling in the Illinois Supreme Court (though the U.S. Supreme Court later went the other way).

A cynic might say that the teachers were simply acting in their self-interest by finding a new revenue source that would help restore their lost wages. Yet their goal was also to find funds that could improve conditions in the schools—and those conditions were truly abysmal. In his 1975 history of the American Federation of Teachers, William Edward Eaton writes that in the 1890s:

The teachers of Chicago daily faced the horrors of overcrowded, unsanitary buildings stuffed with too many children and controlled by an impersonal bureaucratic structure. This they did with poor pay, no job security, and no pension system.

The efforts of teacher organizations to address these problems, through collective bargaining as well as tax justice campaigns, also redounded to the benefit of the students and their families.

The Chicago teachers were also an important force in the passage of the Illinois Child Labor Law of 1903. That cynic might say this was aimed at boosting school enrollment and increasing the demand for teachers. Maybe so, but can anyone deny that banning child labor was also a boon for society as a whole, aside from sweatshop proprietors?

In the decades that followed, unions of teachers and other government employees have been among the strongest advocates of a vibrant public sector. They have continued to be leading critics of corporate tax dodging and opponents of efforts to gut public services. Unions such as AFSCME have been at the forefront of campaigns to stop the contracting out of government functions and the privatization of public assets such as highways—practices that usually work to the detriment of taxpayers as well as public employees.

The state and local public employee unions accomplished this against all odds. Denied the protection of the National Labor Relations Act, they had to get states one-by-one to recognize their right to organize—the right that is at risk in Wisconsin and elsewhere. It took a period of remarkable militancy in the 1960s and 1970s—including defiance of laws banning strikes by public employees—before they made significant progress. Among those strikes was the 1968 walkout by sanitation workers in Memphis, where Martin Luther King Jr. was visiting to show his support when he was assassinated.

And even then there were often severe fiscal limits on the ability of public employees to bargain for substantial wage gains. To compensate, many public unions put more emphasis on securing better retirement benefits for their members. These pension rights—in effect, deferred wages—are now under attack as if they were some giant giveaway.

The real giveaways are the lavish business tax cuts and corporate subsidies that the likes of Gov. Walker promote at the same time that they are demanding severe concessions from government workers. The great confrontation of 2011 comes down a question of whose interests are more closely aligned with those of the public at large: those who teach our children, drive our buses and put out fires in our homes—or superwealthy individuals and large corporations that are reluctant to create new jobs.

With each passing day, the momentum is moving in favor of the descendants of the 1890s Chicago teachers who are fighting for their rights and for the public interest in Madison, Columbus and other capitals across the nation.

Note:  A new movement called US Uncut is organizing actions around the country calling for a crackdown on corporate tax dodging as an alternative to harmful cuts in government programs such as education.

(Reposted from the Dirt Diggers Digest)

California Targets EZ Program for Elimination

February 15, 2011

Facing a budget hole estimated at $28 billion, the administration of California Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed program cuts that have economic development officials panicking.  The Enterprise Zone program, which subsidizes in-zone businesses with hiring tax credits, deductions, and exemptions, is a prime target for revenue-starved California.

The program’s history is controversial.  A host of research has thoroughly debunked the claim that EZs have a significant impact on job creation.  (See the Public Policy Institute of California, whose study we covered on this site in 2009;  the state Legislative Analyst’s Office in March 2010 and again this year; and most recently, the California Budget Project.)  In its February report, the California Budget Project describes a number of troubling aspects of the program:

  • The cost of EZ tax credits and deductions has increased by 35% per year on average since its inception.
  • 70% of EZ tax credits to go corporations with assets of more than $1 billion.
  • The EZ hiring credit does not require the creation of new jobs (many recipients simply relocate jobs).

Only one study has been released in recent years in defense of the EZ program.  A 2009 study released by USC’s Marshall School of Business reported favorably on the economic effects of the program.  (This study is not available online.)  It was rebutted by Robert Tannenwald, then a Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who stated that the study’s findings “fly in the face of empirical evidence and economic theory.”

Whacking the EZ program would save the state $343 million this year.  That figure increases to $600 million annually in just two years’ time.   Elimination of a program that has negligible impact should be an easy decision for the state legislature.  These funds would be better spent in an economic development program with a proven track record.

Criticized Texas Subsidy Program Takes a Big Haircut

September 2, 2010

State tax revenues are in a tailspin as housing values decline. Every state is feeling the heat and making tough decisions. With the budget in dire straits, Texas’ Governor Rick Perry has proposed an across the board 10 percent reduction, which surely will result in painful consequences. But one cutback we’re not teary-eyed over is Gov. Perry’s announcement to thin some big economic development programs.

Yesterday, Gov. Perry proposed shaving off $38.7 million (out of the $256.5 million available) from the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF) and the Emerging Technology Fund. Texas also trimmed back on controversial film subsidies.

Recent reports have accused the Governor of using TEF for political patronage and failing to protect the taxpayer’s buck. Whatever the reason, even a terrible fiscal climate, we laud reining in on programs that aren’t effective and are apt to be abused.

As this recession wears on, we wonder whether states will choose to take a closer look at the $30 to $60 billion spent each year on economic development, often to the benefit of a few companies which have the boldness to ask for our tax dollars.

Right questions, wrong decisions on subsidies for big firms in NYC

August 5, 2010

Deloitte has an office in the city's municipal building on the same floor as the City Comptroller

At the New York City Industrial Development Agency’s public hearing last week, two proposals generated notable controversy: one to bestow millions in tax breaks on Big Four accounting firm Deloitte LLP, and another to revive a subsidy agreement from 1998, still worth millions in unused credits, for information services giant Thomson Reuters. This past Tuesday, the IDA board approved both projects, but not before a handful of board members engaged in a robust dialogue with IDA staffers, especially on the Thomson Reuters proposal.

The Deloitte proposal could have benefited from an even more vigorous discussion. For one thing, it smells like the same old game in which companies pit states and regions against each other in bidding wars for investment. As an IDA staffer explained, the agency “took seriously” a “threat” that Deloitte would leave the city for “other opportunities,” namely New Jersey. (Deloitte LLP plans to use the subsidy to help pay for moving its headquarters from one highly prized Manhattan office location—midtown—to another—Lower Manhattan.) And yet IDA staff also reassured the board that the proposal wasn’t about retention, but about growth. As EDC President Seth Pinsky stated, Deloitte will get no benefits until it increases its employment numbers within NYC. (more…)

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.