Proposed Changes Will Hurt the Elderly, Blind and Disabled, while Corporate Fraud Goes Unpunished
The Wisconsin Senate moved a step closer last week to passing a bill that has been described as combatting fraud or abuse in the FoodShare program, but which will do little, if anything, in that regard. In contrast to the progress of that legislation, as each day passes it looks less likely that the Senate will approve a bipartisan bill (AB 669) that could accomplish a great deal to halt benefit fraud by businesses.
AB 669, which was approved by a voice vote in the Assembly, would make it a felony to fraudulently obtain an economic development benefit from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). It would also allow WEDC to bring a civil action to recover damages for fraudulently obtained benefits. Although the lead Assembly author of the bill is a Republican (Rep. Kerkman), and it enjoyed broad support in the Assembly, AB 669 hasn’t even been given a public hearing in the Senate. Read more
Good Jobs First (GJF) announced today that Wisconsin taxpayers can now access nine years of economic development subsidy data in the organization’s searchable Subsidy Tracker database. The enhanced and expanded database developed by GJF now includes information about nearly 2,200 state and local subsidies for businesses in Wisconsin, totaling more than $1.8 billion.
The updated database adds nearly 30,000 new entries across the U.S. from 160 state and local programs, and 138 federal ones. Access to the database is free and unrestricted at: goodjobsfirst.org/subsidy-tracker. Read more
Conservatives Critique “Tax Cronyism,” and Progressives Critique the ALEC Report
I was pleasantly surprised to learn recently that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has issued a report calling on policymakers to end the wasteful subsidies given to corporations by state and local governments. Their report titled The Unseen Costs of Tax Cronyism: Favoritism and Foregone Growth criticizes special tax breaks for certain companies, which it points out tend to increase the tax burden on other companies and put them at a competitive disadvantage.
Corporations are very good at extorting costly subsidies from state and local officials, but some of those corporations and a growing number of policymakers are realizing that these incentives aren’t an effective way to promote economic growth. As WCCF intern Jelicia Diggs wrote in a recent WI Budget Project blog post, a number of businesses in the Kansas City area have prevailed on Missouri legislators to call a ceasefire to the use of incentives for pirating corporations across the border with Kansas. Read more
A new interactive tool created by the National Priorities Project (NPP) provides a very interesting way to visualize the major federal income tax breaks. The data tool allows you to see the size of the 10 major federal income tax breaks, and the results might surprise you.
The combined cost of the ten largest tax breaks is more than $750 billion this year, and the top two account for nearly half of the total. This web page compares those amounts, and the interactive tool allows you to also see who benefits from each and how the costs have changed over time. As you move your mouse over the bars in the graph on the left, the charts on the right-hand side will change to show information about a specific tax break.
As Early Investment Capital Falls Nationally, It Jumps 31% in Wisconsin
Bruce Murhpy’s latest commentary at UrbanMilwaukee.com ventures where few people (especially “angel investors”) dare to tread – by challenging the perception that Wisconsin lags in availability of venture capital for entrepreneurs and should allocate state funding to create more incentives for boosting the amount of such capital. His analysis was triggered by a January 17 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (MJS) article, which reported that Wisconsin enjoyed strong growth in early investment capital in 2012 – with a 31% increase last year, even though the national venture capital pie contracted by 10%.
Murphy’s column critiques the MJS article and contends that it painted a “glass half empty” picture of venture capital in Wisconsin, but I think he concedes that the Milwaukee paper has accurately reported the statistics. He notes that a PolitiFact column in the Journal Sentinel reported that Wisconsin ranked 25th among the states in the amount of venture capital raised in the first three quarters of 2011 – which I think is better than many people seem to believe. Read more
Considering all the talk about jobs in the Governor’s State of the State address on Tuesday, I found it interesting that there was no mention of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). But perhaps that shouldn’t come as a big surprise, considering all the negative publicity for this private agency, which was created by Governor Walker and the Legislature in 2011 to replace the state Commerce Department.
The latest round in several months of bad publicity came this week in a Journal Sentinel article by Jason Stein and Cathleen Gallagher about problems with the administration of new tax breaks intended to encourage private investment in qualified Wisconsin businesses. In case you missed that January 14 article, it’s an excellent example of investigative journalism.
I don’t have time now to summarize all the findings, but the major problem cited in the article is that the WEDC, “took a year and a half to begin posting the list of companies that have been approved to receive the tax-advantaged investments.” UW economics professor Andrew Reschovsky succinctly summed up the problem with the lack of information about which companies state residents could invest in and qualify for the tax breaks:
“For an incentive to really change behavior, presumably you have to know about it in advance.”
I raise the issue of these tax breaks not to add to the criticism of the WEDC, but instead to point out that policymakers need to take a very careful look at all the tax breaks and other incentives that are being handed over to certain companies and whether that money is being spent effectively to create good paying jobs. Read more
Earmark Transparency Bill Passes Easily in WI Senate, Moves to Assembly
In an unusual display of broad, bipartisan agreement, the Wisconsin Senate voted 30-3 Tuesday in favor of a bill that would require biennial budget bills to be accompanied by reports listing all the earmarks in the bill. SB 114, which now moves on to the Assembly, also prohibits budget conference committees from adding earmarks. At the national level, President Obama has pushed for similar legislation.
Earmark transparency is the kind of “good government” issue that often draws rhetorical support from lawmakers and citizens across the political spectrum, but which is likely to run up against a wall of unspoken resistance that protects the status quo. That’s not to suggest that there aren’t some legitimate questions and concerns about whether this seemingly straightforward requirement will always be practical and effective, but there’s growing sentiment for allowing more sunlight to shine on the budget process. Read more