A Rare Victory In The Endless Fight Against Corporate Welfare

By Mark Price, Third and State

In a rare victory against corporate welfare in Pennsylvania, Ahold USA has withdrawn its request for property tax breaks for a meat-packaging facility it is building in Lower Allen Township, Cumberland County.

As Michael Wood explained before the request was withdrawn:

Ahold is the poster child for a system that is costly, lacks real accountability and leaves the taxpayers paying more...

Paying a profitable corporation for something it was already planning to do makes no sense at all...

Lower Allen Twp. officials decided wisely to put the Ahold tax break on hold. It’s time more public officials followed their lead to stop playing the economic development game and direct tax dollars where they should be spent: on schools, public safety and other vital services. 

In some more mixed news, The Associated Press reports that both the House and Senate have approved House Bill 2626, which allows certain companies to keep new employees’ personal income tax withholdings.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center came out last week with a Top 10 List of concerns with this plan, laying the foundation for some improvements to the bill made in the Senate this week. They include capping the cost of the program at $5 million per year (the original version could have cost hundreds of millions), and requiring that a qualifying company create at least 250 jobs within five years (100 within the first two years).

The bill still reflects a flawed approach to economic development, but the Senate's more cautious approach is much better than the initial House version.

Sen. John Blake, D-Lackawanna, said the bill "crosses a line" in smart economic development by diverting tax revenue to a handful of private companies, and it duplicates existing programs in law that offer tax credits to companies that hire people.

The bill, he said, is "essentially an employee paying their boss for the privilege of having a job."

As Greg LeRoy and Leigh McIlvaine of Good Jobs First explained in an op-ed this week, the "pay your boss to work" approach to economic development is deeply problematic.

It’s one thing to reduce a company’s income tax, property tax or sales tax in hopes of jobs. It’s another to give companies other people’s money. 

The name and idea are imported from Kansas, where they have caused enormous controversy. HB 2626 is modeled on the identically named “Promoting Employment Across Kansas,” or PEAK program, which was enacted in 2009. 

In the wealthy Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, MIQ Logistics and Dex One Service Inc. — two of the city’s largest employers — have so far received a total of $730,000 of their workers’ taxes through PEAK. 

Former Overland Park Chamber of Commerce executive Vern Squier, who worked with Kansas lawmakers to enact PEAK, is now CEO of the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County (State College), where he is pushing the copycat HB 2626. 

HB 2626’s sponsors say it would bring new jobs to the state. But PEAK in Kansas cannot be called a success. It is plagued by transparency problems and is fueling a bitter zero-sum jobs war with Missouri in the Kansas City metro area.

In the last three years, media-reported deals alone there have moved about 1,900 jobs from Missouri to Kansas and about 2,200 from Kansas to Missouri. Most of the moves were subsidized, often with the personal income taxes of workers (Missouri has a similar personal income tax giveaway). 

The costly Kansas City-area jobs war has gotten so bad that 17 prominent business leaders there issued a public appeal last year to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, saying: “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.”

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