Subsidy Megadeals for Megacorporations

June 20th, 2013 by Phil Mattera

moneybagsThe Miami Herald recently published a story with the headline “Amazon Doesn’t Need Tax Incentives, But Localities Offer Millions in Tax Breaks.” Throwing large sums of money at large corporations in a desperate attempt to create jobs is an affliction not limited to public officials in Florida. It is a wasteful and self-defeating public policy that can be found throughout the United States.

An indication of just how pervasive the practice has become can be found in a new report my colleagues and I at Good Jobs First have just issued. The title is Megadeals, and it is a look back at the largest state and local subsidy packages of the past three decades.

In the course of five months of painstaking research, we identified 240 of those packages with a total value of at least $75 million each; the aggregate cost is more than $64 billion. Many of them reach into nine and even ten figures. There are eleven deals costing $1 billion or more in public money.

Most astounding are the costs per job. The average for our 240 megadeals is $456,000 and there are 18 for which the cost per job is $1 million or more.

Megadeals have been awarded to many of the largest and best known companies based in the United States as well as foreign ones doing business here, including: General Motors, Ford, Nissan, Toyota and just about every other large automaker; oil giants such as Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell; aerospace leaders Boeing and Airbus; banks such as Citigroup and Goldman Sachs; media companies such as Walt Disney and its subsidiary ESPN; retailers such as Sears and Cabela’s; old-line industrials such as General Electric and Dow Chemical; and tech stars such as Amazon.com, Apple, Intel and Samsung.

Sixteen of the Fortune 50 are represented. Not included is the company atop of the Fortune list: Wal-Mart. That’s not because Wal-Mart doesn’t receive subsidies—Good Jobs First has separately documented more than $1.2 billion in such taxpayer assistance in our Wal-Mart Subsidy Watch website—but its deals have been worth less than $75 million each and thus don’t qualify for our list.

The most expensive single listing is a 30-year discounted-electricity deal worth an estimated $5.6 billion given to aluminum producer Alcoa by the New York Power Authority. Taking all of a company’s megadeals into account, Alcoa is at the top with its single $5.6 billion deal, followed by Boeing (four deals worth a total of $4.4 billion), Intel (six deals worth $3.6 billion), General Motors (11 deals worth $2.7 billion), Ford Motor (9 deals worth $2.1 billion), Nike (1 deal worth $2 billion) and Nissan (four deals worth $1.8 billion).

The overall costs of megadeals have risen over the past three decades (in current dollars). The megadeals from the 1980s averaged $157 million. The average rose to $175 million in the 1990s and $325 million in the 2000s. It then declined to $260 million in the 2010s. The average for the list as a whole is $269 million.

Some of the deals involve little if any new-job creation; indeed, one in ten of the deals involves the mere relocation of an existing facility, usually within the same state and often a short distance. Some of these retention deals were granted in so-called job blackmail episodes in which a company threatened to move jobs out of state unless it got new tax breaks or other subsidies.

The megadeals list is a new enhancement of Good Jobs First’s Subsidy Tracker database, the first compilation of company-specific data on economic development deals from around the country.

Until now, the content of Subsidy Tracker has consisted exclusively of official disclosure data provided by state and local governments. The information has been obtained from government websites and from direct requests to agencies.  Given the limitations of the disclosure practices among state and local governments—and often from program to program within jurisdictions—the exclusive reliance on official data meant that Subsidy Tracker was missing information on many large deals that had been reported in the media. Either those deals were missing entirely if there was no official disclosure for the programs involved, or else Tracker had incomplete data if some but not all of the programs used in the package were disclosed.

To rectify this problem, we went back and collected information on large deals using a variety of sources, including press releases, newspaper articles and reports on specific projects as well as the official data we already had. The results went into the creation of the megadeals list and have been incorporated into Subsidy Tracker.

Note: The page containing the Megadeals report also has a link to a spreadsheet with full details on all 240 of the deals.

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