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Amazon defeated in New York UPDATED

Amazon defeated in New York UPDATED

In the biggest ever defeat for a subsidized project in history, Amazon announcedFebruary 14th that it was canceling its planned half of HQ2 for New York City, which was to receive subsidies worth at least $3.133 billion. After facing months of public opposition, the company provided a Valentine’s Day present in the form of capitulation. Amazon showed that, like Electrolux, its efforts to extract maximum subsidies from 238 cities constituted corporate rent-seeking on a grand scale. Not only did Amazon conduct an exploitative public auction for the supposedly single HQ2 facility, it furthered the impression that it was engaging in rent-seeking by its refusal to discuss alternatives with New York officials, by its absolute insistence on opposing a union for its workers, and by its sudden though not unexpected cancellation announcement. Activists scorched the firm, too, for the fact that for the second year running, Amazon will pay 0 in federal income tax despite earning $11.2 billion in profits in 2018 and $5.6 billion in 2017.

This is not to be confused with Foxconn, which is looking more and more like an economic development failure. There, it appears that the company will not be able to provide the investment and benefits it promised in Wisconsin. With Amazon, what we have is a case of the company being unwilling to continue the political battle to obtain its $3+ billion in incentives. While Amazon is by far the largest project ever defeated, such defeats are not unprecedented. I participated in two successful campaigns in the late 1990s and early 2000s against abusive tax increment financing (TIF) projects in the St. Louis suburbs of Olivette and O’Fallon, but these were on the order of $40 or $50 million, not $3 billion. Alas, I was also on the losing side of an exceptionally bitter battle against a TIF-funded mall in Hazelwood, Missouri, which still hurts to think about. The residents lost their homes to eminent domain, the city administration was high-handed and manipulative, and the new mall contributed substantially to the death of at least two nearby malls, part of the $2 billion retail subsidy merry-go-round during 1990-2007 documented by the East-West Gateway Council of Governments.

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Amazon defeated in New York; more to come

Amazon defeated in New York; more to come

In the biggest ever defeat for a subsidized project in history, Amazon announcedyesterday that it was canceling its planned half of HQ2 for New York City, which was to receive subsidies worth at least $3.133 billion. After facing months of public opposition, the company provided a Valentine’s Day present in the form of capitulation. Amazon showed that, like Electrolux, its efforts to extract maximum subsidies from 238 cities constituted corporate rent-seeking on a grand scale.

Moreover, as Richard Florida reports at Citylab, the victory has also energized reformers around the country searching for a solution to the problem of corporate bidding wars. I myself have received inquiries from multiple elected officials’ offices about the European Union’s systematic control of investment incentives.

I’m playing at a chess tournament in Texas right now, so I will have more to say about this when I next have time to post.

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Electrolux closing Memphis plant; Economic development malpractice leaves Tennesse holding the bag

Electrolux closing Memphis plant; Economic development malpractice leaves Tennesse holding the bag

On January 31, Electrolux announced (h/t Alan Freeman, ipolitics.ca) that it would be closing its new (2012) factory in Memphis, Tennessee, by the end of 2020. This facility, you may recall, was a subsidized relocation from L’Assomption, Quebec (a Montreal suburb) that had an aid intensity of at least 99%! Yes, Tennessee state and local governments gave Electrolux a free factory ($188.3 million at present value in subsidies) while allowing it to get rid of its union, cut 60 jobs, and save over $4 per hour in wages on the jobs they kept.

As if all that weren’t bad enough, the state of Tennessee agreed not to put clawback provisions into the contract with Electrolux, although the state was already requiring such clauses in contracts with major companies like Volkswagen in Chattanooga. That piece of economic development malpractice has now come back to bite the governments involved where it hurts. Not only does the contract specifically prevent the state from getting its money back, state and local governments guaranteed loans connected with the project, the payments for which will last until 2036. According to the Commercial Appeal’s article, state government is on the hook for $48.5 million in loans, while Memphis and Shelby County governments must pay off a further $28.0 million.

While Electrolux committed to employing 1,240 people in order to receive the subsidies, its peak employment appears to have been the 1,100 who were employed in 2017. Now, just two years later, the company employs only 530 in Memphis, a figure that has been stable for about a year, supplemented only by overtime and temporary workers, both of which have now disappeared.

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Foxconn update

UPDATE: Foxconn now says that it will indeed still build a factory, citing a conversation between CEO Terry Gou and Trump (h/t commenter Joel at Angry Bear). This is certainly clear as mud. As others have pointed out, several promised investments from Foxconn have failed to materialize at anywhere near the scale promised, including in BrazilPennsylvania, Indonesia, Vietnam, and India. So I am going to remain skeptical on what was a terrible deal in the first place.

 

Original AB post Foxconn is flailng in Wisonsin. Post on Wisconsin and Foxconn in 2017 Foxconn cashes in.

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Foxconn is flailing in Wisconsin (Insert your joke here.)

Foxconn is flailing in Wisconsin (Insert your joke here.)

 In what may end up as the biggest economic development failure in U.S. history, Foxconn announced Wednesday that its $10 billion Wisconsin factory will not be a factory. Instead, the company says, it will still create 13,000 jobs, but these will be research jobs rather than manufacturing ones. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Accompanied by an almost $4.8 billion subsidy package as estimated by Good Jobs First (follow the link to the spreadsheet), the project was heavily criticized even before it was announced in 2017 (my take here and here). The massive subsidy helped normalize the idea of multi-billion investment incentives and gave Amazon a handy benchmark for its own effort to break the bank.

As I analyzed a year and a half ago, it didn’t make sense to manufacture electronics in the United States when everything was cheaper in China, unless you were worried about access to the U.S. market. The illegitimate Trump regime had already created an unpredictable and protectionist trade climate, and this was long before the trade war with China really took off. If Foxconn felt it had to locate in the United States, the country was in a strong bargaining position, but by playing the states off against each other, it was still possible for a foreign company to score huge subsidies.

What happens next? As noted, Foxconn still says it will build a huge facility and hire 13,000 workers. But in 2018, it failed to meet its job creation target and forfeited what would have been a $9.5 million subsidy. I predict we will see more such failures from Foxconn until it finally pulls the plug. Indeed, on January 31, Good Jobs First called for the immediate cancellation of the deal, with the company financially responsible for expenses made by the state and by Racine County in connection with the project. This would be a fair resolution of the situation, appropriately leaving egg on the faces of the deal’s promoters, the recently defeated Governor Scott Walker and the head of the illegitimate Trump regime.

As you see, I have managed to steer clear of the obvious puns. Instead, I invite you to insert your joke here.

Cross-posted at Middle Class Political Economist

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New article on tax increment financing in Missouri shows impact of KS/MO border war

New article on tax increment financing in Missouri shows impact of KS/MO border war

After several years of work, my colleague Susan G. Mason (Boise State University) and I have published a new article on TIF in Missouri, specifically in the St. Louis and Kansas City metropolitan areas. “Exploring Patterns of Tax Increment Financing Use and Structural Explanations in Missouri’s Major Metropolitan Regions” appeared in the July 2018 edition of the HUD journal Cityscape, downloadable for free here. We omitted the two cities from our earlier statistical analysis (in the paywalled Economic Development Quarterly, May 2010) because they are much larger than any other Missouri city and use TIF far more than any of them, making them statistical outliers.

In our earlier article, “Tax Increment Financing in Missouri: An Analysis of Determinants, Competitive Dynamics, Equity and Path Dependence,” we found that early adopters of TIF tended to be heavier users of TIF far past the first TIF adopted, that TIF as used in Missouri exacerbated inter-jurisdictional inequity (cities with higher poverty rates were less likely to use it than cities with lower poverty rates), and we found strong evidence for competitive dynamics in the use of TIF: Cities that were adjacent to a TIF-using city were two and a half times as likely as average to use TIF themselves, and implement more TIF projects.

The new article is an exploratory study, as it is impossible to generalize from two cases. But one thing we established clearly, based on complete data from 1988 to 2013 for St. Louis, and from 1988 to 2012 for Kansas City, is that Kansas City’s tax increment financing projects are marked by much higher aid intensity (the EU term that equals subsidy/investment) than those of St. Louis. Indeed, even excluding 2009 in St. Louis, which was marked by several multi-billion projects with low aid intensity (and at least in the case of Northside Regeneration, had substantial state funding not reflected in Exhibit 4 of the article), the overall average aid intensity, ex-2009, is 17%.

By contrast, in Kansas City, the average aid intensity of the city’s TIF projects comes to a whopping 36%,* more than twice as much. Everyone we interviewed on the question considered that there is much greater competition for investment with Kansas than with Illinois in the two metro regions. The difference in aid intensities is consistent with this thesis.

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Shock EU Court Decision Strikes Blow Against Investment Arbitration

Shock EU Court Decision Strikes Blow Against Investment Arbitration

With all the dreary news we’ve seen this week, could you stand some good news? The battle against investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) got a huge boost in March when the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled in Slovak Republic v. Achmea B.V. (“Achmea”) that ISDS is contrary to EU law. The decision was something of a surprise because the preliminary analysis (“opinion,” in EU-speak) of Advocate General* Melchior Wathelet had suggested that the CJEU rule that ISDS is consistent with EU law.

As you may recall from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, ISDS is private arbitration of investment disputes between governments and foreign investors. Completely untethered from precedent and with no appeal, arbiters decide if a government has “expropriated” an investment, complied with its duties under a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) or “trade agreement” such as NAFTA, while these establishing mechanisms place no requirements on the investor. The imbalance of requirements under ISDS as well as its actual procedures present numerous opportunities for corporate abuse and, as Professor Susan Sell laid out in her guest post here in 2015, there is no shortage of examples of such abuse.

In Achmea, the Dutch insurer Achmea B.V. took the Slovak government to arbitration under the Dutch-Slovak bilateral investment treaty after the government decided to reverse liberalization of its health care system, ultimately deciding to create a single national health insurance program. The arbitrators ruled in favor of Achmea and awarded € 22.1 million to the company Three other cases were filed against the Slovak Republic’s action, including a second case from Achmea B.V. (Achmea II), but their respective tribunals all ruled they did not have jurisdiction. In Achmea, the government sought annulment of the award first from the Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt, which ruled against it, and then from the German Federal Court of Justice, which referred the case to the CJEU for a ruling on the relevant EU law (this is standard procedure in EU law).

A number of EU Member States, as well as the European Commission, filed briefs in this case. According to Reuters, “The Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and the European Commission submitted observations in support of Slovakia’s arguments.Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria and Finland contended that such clauses were valid.”

The CJEU ruled, contrary to the Advocate General’s opinion, that ISDS tribunals are not part of the EU legal system, not national courts, and yet might be called on to apply EU law. Moreover, since no appeal is possible, there is nothing to ensure that EU law is applied properly by these tribunals. Given that EU law supersedes all national law, ISDS threatens to undermine the autonomy of EU law. Therefore, the Court ruled that ISDS is not compatible with EU law.

In the first instance, this ruling applies to bilateral investment treaties between two EU Member States. These BITs all involve former Communist states that started becoming EU members only in 2004. As Lucia Bizikova noted on the Kluwer Arbitration blog, all these new Member States signed BITs immediately after the fall of Communism, and the requirements placed on them were much more demanding than under EU investment law. As she puts it, Achmea is “finally bringing justice to the most recent members of the EU.” There are at present 196 intra-EU BITs, and ISDS has now been knocked out of all of them.

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Great new Tax Justice Network podcast on how “Bean Counters…Broke Capitalism”

Great new Tax Justice Network podcast on how “Bean Counters…Broke Capitalism”

The June 28 Taxcast is out with a focus on the Big Four accounting firms. Richard Brooks is the author of Bean Counters: The triumph of the accountants and how they broke capitalism (order here in the UK and here in the US) which documents accountants’ involvement in some of the world’s worst financial scandals, not least of which is the promotion of tax havens. The new segment also features U.S. investigative journalist James Henry and Tax Justice Network Chair John Christensen. Additional stories include fraud at the Trump Foundation and why infamous US tax haven Delaware is supporting a financial transparency bill.

You can find the podcast and further reading here. Enjoy!

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Amazon scores two more $5+ billion bids

Amazon scores two more $5+ billion bids

A non-blogging friend points me to the announcement today of Maryland’s subsidy bidthat puts Montgomery County into one of the 20 finalist slots. Shockingly, Governor Larry Hogan (R-MD) put in a bid that would pay Amazon almost the entire cost of its facility, depending on what you think a proper discount rate should be now (hint: low).

“HQ2,” which Amazon has stated will amount to an eventual $5 billion in investment, will receive a subsidy package worth over $5 billion in nominal value (but not necessarily present value) from Maryland. The largest element in this package is a jobs tax credit of 5.75% of wages for up to 17 years, on salaries averaging $100,000 per year (minimum $60,000, maximum $500,000). According to the story linked above, Amazon would max out this incentive with just 40,000 jobs. To simplify the math, this element would pay up to $5750 per year to Amazon X 40,000 employees X 17 years, or $3.91 billion.

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Now Amazon wants to break the bank

Now Amazon wants to break the bank

On Thursday (October 19), the first stage of the Amazon sweepstakes for a second headquarters, dubbed “HQ2,” was completed as cities submitted their bids to the Internet giant. With a possible $5 billion investment and eventually 50,000 jobs at salaries over $100,000, this is one of the very best economic development projects to come along in a long time.

BUT IS IT?* I have a hard time understanding how this project even makes economic sense. Why does a company need two headquarters? Doesn’t that defeat the whole idea of having a headquarters as a centralized coordination site? Dean Barber has gone so far to suggest that Amazon will “A/B test” the two headquarters: See which one does better, and close the other one (h/t Greg LeRoy). I can believe it, but as long-time readers know, this is an area where we’re looking at the terrible information  asymmetry that bedevils governments in site selection bidding wars. In other words, we have no idea whether Amazon intends to close its existing headquarters in Seattle or close HQ2 if it doesn’t work as well as the current headquarters. This is kind of an important point for assessing the impact of HQ2 on the United States as a whole. And then there’s the effect that subsidizing Amazon will have on its competitors, which will reduce net job creation and net benefits for the country as a whole. On top of everything, unemployment is pretty low in most states, so why would they want to shell out billions of dollars for this project?

I’m not going to try to prognosticate the HQ2 location (I almost said “the winner,” but there is a good chance of overbidding in a public auction with so many competitors), because there is no way to wave away the information asymmetry problem. I think we can be confident that it will be a place that is already a tech hub. CNN offers eight plausible contenders (Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Dallas, Austin, Boston, San Jose, and Washington, DC), while the New York Times predicts Denver. Instead, I want to highlight some specific bids that caught my eye.

One of the good stories is Toronto. Both the city and the province of Ontario were quick off the mark to say that while they would certainly do things like facilitating land assembly, there would be no cash subsidies for Amazon. The city’s application to the company emphasizes its abundance of tech talent. As a sign that this “no subsidies” talk is not empty, we can point to the announcement earlier this month that Ontario had secured a new investment from Thomson Reuters, adding 400 jobs over two years, scheduled to eventually grow to 1,500 jobs. This project received no financial support at all, only what provincial officials described as “concierge service” (h/t Carpentry of the Heart).

Another major city not getting involved in the bidding war is San Jose. Like Ontario officials, Mayor Sam Liccardo argues that talent availability is the key to attracting businesses. While this tells us nothing about incentives the state of California might provide, it is good to see two of the major potential sites taking an anti-subsidy position.

At the other end of the spectrum, New Jersey is offering $5 billion over 10 years, and Newark will provide another $2 billion over 20 years. This is crazy on a number of levels. First of all, it has a nominal aid intensity of 140%: New Jersey and Newark will pay all the costs of the project and give Amazon some more money on top of that. Second, this is 18 times bigger than the largest subsidy the state has given in the past ($390 million). (We saw the same situation with Nevada and Tesla, but that was only 13 times the state’s formerly largest incentive package.) Whether the state is really capable of managing a deal of that size is doubtful; indeed, the $390 million American Dream retail/entertainment project has been under construction for more than 10 years. Third, while not all of the approximately 50 bids have yet been revealed, currently the second-highest bid is $500 million from Worcester, Massachusetts (state support is currently unknown), 1/14 the size of Newark’s package. This is reminiscent of the disparity in bids between North Carolina and Virginia for a Dell manufacturing facility in 2004: $300 million (nominal) vs. $37 million! Fourth, and finally, this project requires the legislature to tear up the current geographic targeting of the state’s Grow NJ subsidy fund, currently restricted to the four poorest cities in the state, Passaic, Paterson, Camden, and Trenton.

Now, we wait. Amazon does not plan to announce its decision until next year. There is plenty of time to announce a list of finalists and subject them to more pressure. I am going to guess that when all first-round bids are revealed, the number 2 bid will be over $1 billion; indeed, there may be several $1+ billion bids. This is going to get ugly before we’re done.

*Bonus points if you recognize the literary allusion.

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