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Pennsylvania Tax Giveaways and an Island in the Sun

9:01 am in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

This is Oracle's headquarters.

By Jamar Thrasher, Third and State

A few weeks ago, the Pennsylvania General Assembly fast-tracked a bill in the waning days of the legislative session to allow certain private companies to keep most of the state income taxes of new employees. News reports to follow indicated the new tax giveaway was designed to lure California-based software firm Oracle to State College.

Well, it turns out the CEO of Oracle, which will benefit from the largess of Pennsylvania taxpayers, recently bought his very own Hawaiian island, as CNN reported back in June.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, the third richest man in the U.S., purchased about 98% of Lana’i, the sixth largest of the Hawaiian islands. Forbes reported that the deal was rumored to be worth $500 million.

As CNN tells us:

The island includes two luxury resorts, two golf courses, two club houses and 88,000 acres of land, according to a document filed with the Public Utilities Commission.

Which bring us back to Pennsylvania, where Governor Corbett recently signed House Bill 2626, allowing qualifying companies that create at least 250 new jobs within five years to pocket 95% of the personal income taxes paid by the new employees.

Legislative sources told The Philadelphia Inquirer that “the bill was designed to lure California-based Oracle, the world’s third-largest software maker with $37 billion in revenue last year, to open a facility in the Penn State region, which would provide a pool of highly educated job seekers.”

We’ve already blogged about why this bill is a bad deal for Pennsylvanians, but Larry Ellison’s island provides us with yet another reason.

Oracle should not be pocketing the withholding taxes of new employees in State College, especially at a time when the state is cutting investments in schools and underfunding infrastructure.

And especially when the boss is doing well enough to afford an island in the sun.

Photo by Alamagordo under Creative Commons license.

A Rare Victory In The Endless Fight Against Corporate Welfare

1:52 pm in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

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In a rare victory against corporate welfare in Pennsylvania, Ahold USA has withdrawn its request for property tax breaks for a meat-packaging facility it is building in Lower Allen Township, Cumberland County.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