Mississippi sets a record for unreported subsidies

As I have written before, when states announce a major new investment, it is far more likely that the announced subsidy is an underestimate than an overestimate. A new Good Jobs First study commissioned by the United Auto Workers unearths a new example of this, which I believe is the largest underestimate ever: Nissan in Mississippi.

When Nissan announced in 2000 that it had chosen Madison County, Mississippi, just north of Jackson, as the site for a new assembly facility, it was reported that the project had received $295 million in subsidies (at a present value of $289.7 million, as I calculated in Investment Incentives and the Global Competition for Capital). The project also was given the power of eminent domain, and while one family succeeded in avoiding condemnation, it no doubt weighed on voters when they overwhelmingly passed an eminent domain reform initiative in 2011.

It turns out, as Good Jobs First reports, that the announcements left a few things out. While the $295 million package was passed by the state legislature in a one-day session (North Carolina does this sort of thing, too), the project was also receiving incentives from Madison County, and the city of Canton agreed not to annex the plant for 30 years. In addition, it was eligible for huge subsidies under existing Mississippi programs, including Jobs Tax Credits, reductions in its business franchise tax, personal property and sales tax exemptions, as well as Advantage Jobs, which lets employers keep up to 90% of workers’ state tax withholdings. This is a type of subsidy of which Good Jobs First is highly critical, as is David Cay Johnston.

Just how much was left out? $867 million, as follows:

Jobs tax credits: $400 million over 20 years

Franchise tax reduction: $72 million over 20 years

Advantage Jobs: $160 million over 20 years

County infrastructure: $25 million

County property tax abatement: $210 million over 30 years

Not only that, but Nissan received a further $68 million for an expansion in 2002, plus about $13 million in miscellaneous subsidies more recently. Finally, Good Jobs First estimates that the state had to spend about $90 million to finance the bonds for the infrastructure at the beginning of the project.

The report notes that employment is around 4500. Counting all the subsidies, but omitting the $90 million for financing, that comes to about a nominal value of $276,000 per job, more than the usual assembly plant project. In addition, about 20% of the jobs there are held by temporary workers, making the value of the project less than if all workers were directly employed by Nissan.

No doubt some of this information was available before. But the fact that it’s taken over 12 years to get a full accounting of the costs of the project–and that the subsidy for the initial phase was almost three times the amount advertised–provides a stark warning about how difficult it is to have adequate oversight and accountability for even projects that receive a great deal of press coverage.

Cross-posted from Middle Class Political Economist.