The Man Without a Plan, Uncle Sam

May 22, 2008

The man without a plan? T

hat would be Uncle Sam!

It ha

s been 20 years since cities started adopting clawbacks, often in the wake of plant closings, and they are everywhere today.

It has been 14 years since the living wage movement took off and today Job Quality Standards are found in most states’ development code and many cities’ and counties



It has been 13 years since Minnesota enacted what was then a terrific disclosure law and half the states now disclose to varying degrees.

It has been 10 years since the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy won its first Community Benefits Agreements, that model has spread across the nation.

We are way past any dogma that these reforms are going to somehow "

poison the business climate."

Yet look at the pathetic state of the federal government


s main economic development agencies and programs:

HUD is in shambles, not just because of Secretary Jackson'

s departure under an ethics cloud, but because its funding has been repeatedly cut and its staff demoralized so that it has grown irrelevant on the big issues of the day.

Did HUD avert the subprime scandal? Is HUD weatherizing millions of homes to curb global warming and help people deal with soaring energy prices?

Community Development Block Grants



s biggest urban aid program


lack basic safeguards, and they don'

t require Community Benefits.

It is because of cutbacks in programs like Block Grants that city officials claim they must mortgage our future


that they must create TIF districts that impoverish our tax base and our schools for 15, 23, even 35 years.

The Department of Labor'

s Workforce Investment Act also spreads money everywhere, but it lacks a firm Job Quality Standards requirement (although some local WIBs have attached them).

The same structural accountability problems exist with major Department of Commerce programs.

And as one newspaper exposé revealed, even the Agriculture Department spends billions for economic development, much of it fueling sprawl or favoring big businesses over small ones or subsidizing projects in wealthy areas that don


t need help.

There is one tiny office of the Environmental Protection Agency doing some terrific work on smart growth, but it is just one tiny office.

It is a big issue that Uncle Sam Has No Plan. According to estimates made in the mid-1990s, the federal government spends two and a half times more on "

corporate welfare"

than do all 50 states combined — about $125 billion per year


versus $50 billion for all the states.

As in the states, most of those federal dollars are uncollected taxes: tax credits, tax exemptions, bonus depreciation, and so forth. But we still don't have specific details about who got what.

In my next blog: how Uncle Sam's incomplete disclosure systems reveals only the tip of the iceberg.