Curtailing the Subsidy War Within the United States

Source: Edward Alden and Rebecca Strauss, Council on Foreign Relations, Policy Innovation Memorandum no. 45, May 2014

From the summary:
Each year, U.S. state and local governments spend tens of billions of dollars to lure or retain business investment. The subsidies waste scarce taxpayer dollars that could better be used to strengthen public services such as education and infrastructure, or to lower overall tax burdens to create a more favorable investment climate. No state wants to dole out such subsidies, but most fear losing jobs to competing states if they refuse. States should take steps to curb subsidies, beginning with greater disclosure and cost-benefit analyses, and building up to a multistate agreement that creates strong disincentives for continuing subsidies. Existing international arrangements provide models and tools for achieving this….

….Rarely do the benefits of these subsidies exceed the costs. In highly mobile industries, like film production, the subsidies do lure business from other states, but any job creation is short-term and film crews are usually imported. In many other industries, subsidies have less influence on location decisions; manufacturers, in particular, require local networks of suppliers and employees with specialized training. Local governments usually lack the sophistication to negotiate successfully with big companies, so they end up subsidizing businesses that would have invested in the state regardless. Public money is wasted that could have gone to lower the overall corporate tax rate or to more productive investments like education and infrastructure—assets that matter more for most business location decisions than one-off tax breaks…..