19 Billion Reasons To Talk About Texas Business Incentives

Texas business tax incentives, yay or nay? What people are saying about the lengthy front-page New York Times investigative piece by Louise Story. 
Tue December 4, 2012 7:00 pm
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There are 19 billion reasons why the talk of Texas for the past two days has been  a lengthy front-page New York Times investigation by Louise Story, part of a series on how state and local economies are changed by tax incentives. 

As in $19 billion: the annual haul in tax breaks Governor Rick Perry and Texas give out to help lure businesses around the state. As Story wrote:

Under Mr. Perry,  Texas gives out more of the incentives than any other state, around $19 billion a year, an examination by The New York Times has found. Texas justifies its largess by pointing out that it is home to half of all the private sector jobs created over the last decade nationwide….

Yet the raw numbers mask a more complicated reality behind the flood of incentives, the examination shows, and raise questions about who benefits more, the businesses or the people of Texas.

Along with the huge job growth, the state has the third-highest proportion of hourly jobs paying at or below minimum wage. And despite its low level of unemployment, Texas has the 11th-highest poverty rate among states….

The free flow of tax breaks and subsidies in Texas makes it particularly fertile ground to examine these economic development deals and the fundamental trade-off behind them: the more states give to businesses, the less they have available in the short term to spend on basic services, a calculation made more stark by the recession.

The piece is accompanied by an exhaustive  database (for all 50 states) that itemizes each and every one of the 2,649 grants Texas and its local governments have issued. The analysis (by Story, Tiff Fehr and Derek Watkins) notes that $19 billion represents 51 cents per dollar of the state budget, and $759 per person. 

Story wrote that Governor Perry “acknowledged that the state’s job growth was not erasing persistent poverty, saying that “we are going to have people that fall through the cracks.” He said creating jobs was the best way to help Texans, who “don’t want government assistance when they can do it themselves.”

Story discussed her story–that construction couldn’t be avoided forever!–on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Monday. 

By early Tuesday, the piece had amassed more than 600 comments, as well as numerous reactions from around the net. 

The “most searing report ever on how much ‘doin’ bidness’ is costing us,” progressive Perry Dorrell at Brains and Eggs opined.

“Isn’t that kind of competive hand-out money the purview of location teasing billionaire pro sports owners?,”  asked Toronto blogger CQ of Classic Quarters, who took an interest in the piece because both Ontario and Texas have given breaks to Samsung. 

At the New Republic, Alex MacGillis  noted that he covered some of this same territory in a 2011  profile of Rick Perry:

But even I was shocked at some of what Times reporter Louise Story turned up, including the role of a tax consultant by the name of G. Brint Ryan. Ryan, who typically gets a 30 percent cut of the incentive award he secures for companies, has helped companies get tax incentives in more than half the states in the country, but specializes in Texas, where he and his wife have contributed more than $4 million to state politicians since 2000, and where more than a third of the awards from one of the state’s biggest incentive programs, more than $80 million, has gone to Ryan clients.

MacGillis pointed out that while Story called attention to the hole in education funding that incentive money could be filling, the business programs also affect health care costs, especially since the lower-wage jobs many companies bring to Texas in response to tax breaks don’t include health coverage. 

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