Georgia makes aggressive use of subsidies as part of the state’s economic development strategy. It combines tax breaks, grants, and bond-lease schemes to provide millions of dollars to huge companies like Facebook, Kia and SK Innovation. Many of the subsidies are never disclosed to the public. Lockheed Martin, as an example, will benefit from about $100 million in tax breaks because of a change to a subsidy targeting “high-impact aerospace defense projects.” This was only revealed through a journalistic investigation.
Among the most controversial programs in the state are film production subsidies that cost the state between $500 million and $1 billion annually, depending on the year. Job Tax Credits and Quality Jobs Tax Credits, the state’s “flagship programs,” can entirely eliminate a company’s income tax obligation. Though the state’s constitution bans the use of property tax breaks, localities use local bond-lease agreements to get around the prohibition.
The Georgia Economic Development Department (GDEcD) works with companies on subsidy packages. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) manages grant programs, and the Georgia Department of Revenue administers tax-based subsidies. Local development authorities issue and administer bond-lease deals.
The public has access to very little online about subsidy recipients. None of the tax-based subsidies are disclosed. The Regional Economic Business Assistance (REBA) and OneGeorgia EDGE grant awards are posted online for 30 days, but after that they are taken down essentially making the programs non-transparent.
Even disclosure of program costs can be problematic. The state reports three programs under GASB 77 but without costs, claiming confidentially would be compromised because so few companies benefit from the programs. The same logic is used for some program costs in the state’s annual Tax Expenditure Reports. Grant and bond costs are hard to find as well.
Georgia doesn’t have a formal schedule for subsidy evaluation. The Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts has done subsidy audits on an ad-hoc basis. Among them, a 2020 film subsidy audit showed the program lost 90 cents on every $1 invested and that the program lacked oversight. It also estimated that in one year it cost the state almost $1 billion. The audit pushed the state legislators to require every company to be audited before claiming that subsidy.