Who’s afraid of sunlight? Explaining opposition to transparency in economic development

Source: Nathan M. Jensen, Calvin Thrall, Washington Center for Equitable Growth, February 2019

From the abstract:
Why do some firms oppose transparency of government programs? In this paper we explore legal challenges to public records requests for deal-specific, company-specific participation in a state economic development incentive program. By examining applications for participation in a major state economic program, the Texas Enterprise Fund, we find that a company is more likely to challenge a formal public records request if it has renegotiated the terms of the award to reduce its job-creation obligations. We interpret this as companies challenging transparency when they have avoided being penalized for non-compliance by engaging in non-public renegotiations. These results provide evidence regarding those conditions that prompt firms to challenge transparency and illustrate some of the limitations of safeguards such as clawbacks (or incentive-recapture provisions) when such reforms aren’t coupled with robust transparency mechanisms.

Related:
Amazon HQ2: Texas experience shows why New Yorkers were right to be skeptical
Source: Nathan M. Jensen, Calvin Thrall, The Conversation, February 14, 2019

New York offered Amazon close to US$3 billion to build a “second” headquarters in Long Island City on the promise of 25,000 jobs.

Since the deal was joyfully announced in November, however, many local residents and some politicians in the area have been questioning whether it’s worth it, both in terms of the price tag and the impact on housing and traffic congestion. And on Feb. 14, Amazon backed out of the deal, citing political opposition to its plans.

The research supports those who question the wisdom of cities and states incentivizing economic development. Studies suggest the jobs and economic gains are usually not worth the tax breaks since the majority of companies would have come even without incentives.

And that’s when the companies try to live up to the promises they made. They don’t always do so, with the latest example being Foxconn’s announcement that it is reconsidering plans to build a factory in Wisconsin – less than a year after agreeing to create up to 13,000 high-tech jobs in exchange for more than $4.5 billion in incentives.

But how often do companies that agree to build factories and create jobs in exchange for economic incentives back away from their promises? And when they do, do taxpayers ever learn about it?

To shine light on these questions, we conducted a study of a Texas economic development program. Taxpayers in any American city considering luring a company with cash should take heed…..
Opinion: Amazon, New York and the End of Corporate Welfare
Source: Mene Ukueberuwa, Wall Street Journal, February 18, 2019
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Special tax breaks do little to spur the economy. Now they’re becoming politically unpopular too

Are New Yorkers better off after Amazon’s decision Thursday to cancel its planned headquarters in the Queens neighborhood of Long Island City? It’s a complicated question, weighing the benefits of new high-earning residents against the added strain on local services. Yet the pullout could lead to a decisive triumph for taxpayers across the nation, as city and state officials start to reckon with the popular backlash against corporate tax incentives…..

Opinion: New York Did Us All a Favor by Standing Up to Amazon
Source: David Leonhardt, New York Times, February 17, 2019

Yes, Amazon’s departure will modestly hurt the city’s economy. But it’s also a victory against bad economic policy.

New York Labor Didn’t Shrink from Confronting Amazon
Source: Steven Greenhouse, American Prospect, February 18, 2019

But unions were sharply divided about how to deal with the tech giant.