A Closer Look At Business Subsidies

By Wendy HarrisOn Dec 09, 2012

The New York Times did a 10 month investigation into business incentives awarded by local, state and federal governments. It amounted to $80.4 billion dollar a year. It was a difficult task because there is no nationwide accounting system in place. The results are summarized through a user-friendly U.S. map at http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/12/01/us/government-incentives.html?ref=us#home.

Per capita, Washington is one of the top states nationwide for providing private business incentives. Washington spends at least $2.35 billion dollars a year, which is about $350 dollars per capita. In contrast, California pays about $115 per capita in subsidies, while New York and Florida spend $212 per capita. Texas and Michigan topped the list, at $760 and $672, respectively.

Most Washington state incentives are in the form of sales tax relief (refunds, exemptions and discounts), but we also provide corporate income tax relief and property tax abatement. The majority of the incentives are provided to the manufacturing and agriculture industry, with a nice chunk for the aircraft industry as well. A list of the Washington corporations receiving subsidies, along with the amount and the type of the subsidizes is listed at http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/12/01/us/government-incentives.html?ref=us#WA

Nationally, 48 companies made the “$100 million dollar club” by receiving more than $100 million dollars in state grants since 2007. The list reads likes a “who’s who” of big business. Companies from the energy sector (oil, gas, coal, electric) are well represented by companies such as Shell, GE, Valero Energy, Cheniere Energy, American Electric Power, Marathon Petroleum, Cleco, Andarco Petroleum. My personal favorites are the companies that create toxic products that threaten the environment and public health, such as Dow Chemical, LG Chem, and of course, Shintech, producer of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a known source of dioxin exposure, although the company is most famous for its flagrant violations of environment regulations in the Gulf region.

We can debate all day the merits of providing incentives to private business in an effort to create jobs and economic opportunities. But can we at least agree that subsidizing companies that are creating dangerous and toxic chemicals is counterproductive, if for no other reason than pure economics? Any money paid into companies like Shintech will be offset by even greater sums of money needed to pay for future health care costs and environmental clean-up efforts.

About Wendy Harris

Past Writers • Member since Mar 31, 2008

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