How We Work to Eradicate Corporate Rule

December 29, 2021

Corporate subsidies drain billions from public schools. Companies fined billions by regulators – here and abroad. States hide billions in pandemic-relief… we’re on it! And we can do even more with your support.
Arlene here, wrapping up my first full year with Good Jobs First. I barely know where to start, so let’s dive in!
But first, our New Year’s Resolution for 2022: For economic development to center our littlest residents. Excellent schools, efficient infrastructure and community amenities are the true key to attracting productive companies that care about our neighborhoods’ futures.
A big loss for public school districts
Q: How do you find out how much public school districts lose to tax abatements?
A: Get a copy of every single districts’ end-of-year-spending report in the nation.
That’s exactly what we did for our national study, “Abating Our Future: How Students Pay for Corporate Tax Breaks.” We tracked down 10,370 Annual Comprehensive Financial Reports (one PDF at a time) to reveal lost revenue totaling $2.37 billion.
In 149 school districts, the losses total more than $1,000 per student.
And that only includes data from 27 states. In 2022, we’ll be working hard to improve that tally, asking the body that oversees ACFRs to fix loopholes in the reporting rules. We recommend including the costs of Tax Increment Financing (one of the costliest, most abused subsidies) and losses associated with Industrial Revenue/Development Bonds, among other things.
It was powerful to hear from education leaders about how students are harmed from these revenue losses, which we did during a panel discussion. You can still watch it on YouTube or Facebook.
  • Speaking of TIF, we put together this FAQ. We did it in four parts, so those new to the issue and experienced pros should all learn something new.
Violation Tracker makes its international debut
Our database chronicling corporate misconduct in the United States is exceedingly popular. When some bank-reform activists reached out and urged us to replicate it for the United Kingdom, our first response was, “Sure, why not?”
14,432 Zoom meetings and emails later, Violation Tracker UK was born, debuting with 60,000 records across 40 regulatory agencies.
Watchdogs quickly made use of it, showing how UK’s privatized water companies have paid massive fines for environmental, water service, workplace health and safety, and labour violations since 2010. As in the U.S., banks stand out in a bad way: almost half of the UK penalties, by £, are against financial services companies.
Our original Violation Tracker – the OG – was launched in 2015 with 100,000 records from 13 agencies; it now has 502,000 civil and criminal cases from more than 300 agencies with penalties of $774 billion.
In 2021, we added product liability lawsuits, class action lawsuits and state-level environmental penalties.
I’ll tell you this: our Research Director Philip Mattera is one very busy person and has been pioneering this work for, oh, 40 years or so, as Fortune magazine wrote.
We’re watching you, officials spending billions in pandemic money
We’d been really frustrated trying to figure out how states are spending the Coronavirus Relief Fund, a $150 billion pot of flexible money set aside in the CARES Act. So we investigated every state, and the results were grim: Just six states do a job good disclosing how they spent the money.
The good news is states have a second chance to fix the tracking of $350 billion they are getting under the American Rescue Plan Act. Research analyst Katie Furtado offers recommendations in our recent report, Federal Dollars, States’ Recoveries: How Poorly Most States are Disclosing CARES ACT Spending. (and don’t miss the New Year’s Resolutions she made for them).
It’s a historic opportunity to help disinvested communities. Let’s make sure they’re the ones that experience the benefits.
Real quick
  • Amazon got more than $665 million in subsidies in 2021 from state and local governments (as the Financial Times reported, using our Amazon Tracker), and it stands to gain more via federal tax breaks based on where it locates warehouses. We broke news of the Amazon-Opportunity Zone connection here
  • Speaking of OZs, I wrote about David Wessel’s new book – “Only the Rich Can Play: How Washington Works in the New Gilded Age” – for Public Seminar, and also interviewed him for our “5 questions with” feature. 
  • American Economic Liberties Project‘s Pat Garafolo and I put together a handy dandy list of questions to ask when Amazon comes to town asking for alms free public money. It could also be called, “There’s no need to just rewrite that glowing press release.” 
  • Executive Director Greg LeRoy asked Texas’ comptroller to keep disclosing the costs and benefits of the Lone Star State’s costliest corporate welfare law that, in a victory for many of us, expires at the end of 2022. 
Two favors, please! I could go on, but please consider doing two things before the year ends:
First, send us a line about how our work has helped your efforts. Your generous minutes will help us show funders how our data and assistance make a difference. Just email Greg at [email protected].
Second, please donate what you can. Thanks to an anonymous donor, all gifts to Good Jobs First are being doubled, up to $10,000.
We’ll never ever sell or share your information. GJF is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, so your support may be tax-deductible.
Thanks for coming along this year, readers. Let’s do it again in 2022.