Economic development efforts often seem like a zero-sum game; Indiana offers training funds or infrastructure improvements or property tax abatements to businesses relocating from, say, Illinois, and Illinois does the same for businesses coming from Indiana.
Even within the state, municipalities try to lure employers to City A from City B by offering tempting “goodies.”
There are lots of problems with this state of affairs. It tends to be unfair to small businesses that have been longtime corporate citizens, and all too often, the relocation would have occurred without the (legal) bribe represented by these incentives. Worst of all, however, is the reluctance of the state to require or enforce appropriate “clawback” provisions.
When state or city government offers incentives to businesses, it is in return for that business undertaking to create a certain number of jobs. The idea is that the government will recoup its up-front investment in the form of additional taxes paid by a growing workforce. The agreement, or contract, obligating the unit of government to provide the incentive should include provisions protecting the government in case of default; in other words, if the business fails to create the promised jobs, or moves its operations elsewhere, it should be required to repay the amounts advanced.
Fair enough. You do what you say you will do, or you pay us back. The Pence administration, however, pursues a narrow version of the clawback.
An IndyStar analysis found that the Indiana Economic Development Corporation — which Pence leads — has approved $24 million in incentives to 10 companies that sent work to foreign countries. Of those incentives, nearly $8.7 million has been paid out so far.
During that same period, those companies terminated or announced layoffs of more than 3,800 Hoosier workers while shifting production to other countries, where labor tends to be far less expensive.
The state has clawed back or put a hold on some or all of the incentives in four of those cases, returning $746,000 in taxpayer subsidies. But in the other six cases, the companies faced no consequences.
The primary reason: The job creation and retention requirements in the state’s incentive agreements are usually narrowly tailored to a single facility, leaving workers at other sites owned by the same company vulnerable to offshoring.
During the last legislative session, House Democrats authored language that would have required corporations that move facilities out of Indiana to re-pay any property tax incentives they had received, and also would have prevented those companies from receiving other state tax breaks. The proposal–which was an amendment to another bill–ultimately went nowhere.
Meanwhile, as the Star reported, the state’s much-touted job growth figures pale in comparison to the jobs lost to offshoring.
Those records show that the same 10 companies or their related subsidiaries have laid off or plan to layoff more than 3,820 workers in Indiana because work has been shifted to other countries since 2013.
Those losses are more than three times larger than the number of jobs that would have been created under the state’s incentive agreements, even if they had all come to fruition.
Here’s the thing: companies have the right to move their operations. But that shouldn’t mean they have the right to move and keep the tax dollars that Hoosiers forked over in the expectation that they would honor their commitments, stay in the state, and create jobs.
A deal is a deal–and the state should play hardball, not wiffle-ball.