Opinion: Do Taxpayers Know They Are Handing Out Billions to Corporations?

Source: Nathan M. Jensen, The New York Times, April 24, 2018
 
Every year, states and local governments give economic-development incentives to companies to the tune of between $45 billion and $80 billion. Why such a wide range? It’s not sloppy research; it’s because many of these subsidies are not public. For the known subsidies, such as Maryland’s recent $8.5 billion incentive bid for Amazon’s second headquarters, the support includes cash grants for company relocations, subsidized land, forgiving company taxes on everything from property taxes to sales taxes and investments in infrastructure for the company. …

… Economic development all across the country is getting less open — and both Democrats and Republicans are doing it. In fact, in many cases, the politicians themselves aren’t even the ones negotiating for the public. How do communities balance the tremendous opportunity of attracting a world-class company against the taxpayer costs, the pressures on our infrastructure and our struggles of providing affordable housing? … Another strategy to avoid transparency in a competition like this is through complexity. The idea is to make economic development so twisted that it’s nearly impossible to figure out who is responsible for it. If governments aren’t submitting these bids, with taxpayers’ money, who is responsible for economic development? In many states, companies are wooed by getting a break on paying local taxes. In some of these cases, local interests get overlooked — in particular, schools. There are school districts where economic developers were empowered to give away the tax revenues without the input of educators. …