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Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010 01:01 am

Corporate welfare roulette

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One thing that governors and mayors absolutely love to do is win a prize in the national game called “Corporate Welfare Roulette.” It’s a simple casino-style game in which politicos put down a big stack of taxpayers’ money on an out-of-state corporation as an “incentive,” hoping that their bet outbids other states and cities trying to lure that same corporation to move to their area and hire some people.

There’s always a celebration when politicos “win” one of these cash-for-jobs gambles. The media gather, politicos prance, the Chamber of Commerce chief grins from ear to ear and the corporate CEO mouths platitudes about free enterprise (while stuffing taxpayer cash in his pockets).

Only six years ago, Winston-Salem, N.C., had its lucky day, having won the spin of the roulette wheel to land a corporate gem. Dell, the computer giant, was headed to town, pledging to erect a state-of-the-art assembly plant and hire up to 1,500 folks.

“We won,” crowed all the local poobahs. They had put down about $318 million in tax giveaways, cash and other freebies to land the prize, and in October 2005, they enjoyed the glorious grand opening of Dell’s $7 million plant. The future was bright.

However, one thing that governors and mayors absolutely hate to do is to face up to the fact that their prize has reneged, failing to deliver the promised number of jobs. Real bad politics.

Last October, four years and two days after Dell’s gala opening in Winston-Salem, the giant suddenly upped and left! It abruptly announced that it would soon cut out for the cheap-labor havens of Asia, shut down the still-sparkling assembly plant, discard the 900 people it had hired (600 short of its promise) and kiss off North Carolina. Thanks for the memories. Adios, chumps.

Formerly gleeful politicos were now howling, demanding “every red cent of incentive money” back. But they had put down their money and taken their chances, and corporate gods are notoriously fickle. While much of North Carolina’s subsidy had not yet been doled out, taxpayers still took a hit of about $17 million for its fling with Dell.

Meanwhile, the roulette wheel continues to spin, and more and more taxpayers across the country are learning that they’re getting stiffed, receiving only a fraction of the jobs they were taxed to bring to their area.

This is always embarrassing to the public officials who’ve so enthusiastically played the game, but leave it to a Texas politico to come up with a slick political fix. When Gov. Rick Perry’s corporate job subsidies don’t succeed, he simply — abracadabra! — redefines success.

Texas has a long history of governors who have a genetic resistance to ethics, but this guy can’t even spell the word.

A watchdog group, Texans for Public Justice, recently exposed Perry’s flimflam in a report documenting extensive job shortfalls in his corporate deals. TPJ revealed that Gov. Slick had quietly been “amending” the terms of the contractual agreements that corporations signed to get our tax dollars.

Without even informing the other state officials who supposedly oversee the corporate subsidy fund, Perry eased the job-creation requirements to make the deals look like they are succeeding. Such slackers as Lockheed Martin and Tyson Foods have had their job quotas slashed, been permitted to count part-time jobs as full-time and even been allowed to use foreign workers (and possibly illegal immigrants) rather than Texas citizens to meet their job-creation obligations.

When he learned last month that the TPJ was about to bust his little secret “fix,” Perry rushed out a statement lamely insisting that nothing was amiss, that his redefinitions were merely meant to “refresh” the state’s job contracts.

Refresh? Why do I feel an urgent need to shower when I hear such a clean word ooze out of the mouth of such an oily politician?

The whole game of Corporate Welfare Roulette is oily. For more information on the scams that come from it — and on what can be done to stop these giveaways — contact Good Jobs First: www.goodjobsfirst.org.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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