One phrase that popped up in the campaign even more rarely than “climate change” was “corporate welfare.” That’s unfortunate, because there’s a lot of money going into government favors for corporations.
Most call it by less polarizing terms, like corporate subsidies or tax expenditures, or disguise it under the larger umbrella of economic development, but by whatever name, it’s big business. After months of effort compiling what they say is the most comprehensive database of these deals (one that appears to me incomplete), the New York Times estimated government corporate subsidies top $80 billion a year. Its three-part series is pretty exhausting, if not exahaustive, and features an interactive database. After several years of pushing, advocates of more transparency in corporate subsidies at the state level managed to get the DOR to compile a list of $151 million in state tax giveaways.
Part three of the NYT series focused on how much Pontiac and the state of Michigan gave away to a bunch of Hollywood slicks who promised to build a studio. Unfortunately, the studio’s business model was based on the availability of tax credits to movie producers. When the political winds shifted and that corporate welfare trough closed down, Pontiac’s studio went dark, with taxpayers left holding the bag.
By coincidence, that story appeared the morning a movie financier premiered a plan to build a movie production studio on state-owned land in Westborough, which it the topic of my column today.
I’ve got more thoughts on the subject, and reporting I couldn’t fit into the column, that I can sprinkle into the comments below.