How Much Money Is Your City or State Losing to “Economic Development?”

Have you ever wondered how much money your city or state is actually losing when it gives a 20-year tax break to a developer in exchange for a handful of jobs?

You might soon be able to find out. As Shawn Escoffery of the Surdna Foundation and Greg LeRoy of Good Jobs First explain in this opinion piece in the Chronicle of Philathropy, “For the first time ever, the body that oversees government accounting standards is proposing that state and local governments report how much revenue they lose to business tax breaks granted in the name of economic development.”

Since that money would often have gone into the coffers of cash-strapped schools and local governments where community developers work, this is directly in the community development field's interest—and the interest of anyone who cares about equitable uses of public funds. As Escoffery and LeRoy say:

Once school boards, cities, counties, and states are all reporting uniformly on the same kinds of expenditures, it will finally be possible to look for patterns that demonstrate whether governments are treating citizens fairly. Foundations and grantees concerned about adequate and equitable funding for education and all public services will gain a powerful new form of analysis. Tax and budget activists seeking to help more people understand how public revenues are affected by interactions between government bodies will gain useful new data.

Having this information may turn the tide of public opinion against some of the more egregious giveaways.

But it's not yet a sure thing that we'll have that info. It's only a proposal. Check out this Good Jobs First primer for more details on the proposal, how it could be made better, and, importantly, how to comment.

(Photo credit: Flickr user John Tornow, CC BY 2.0)

Miriam Axel-Lute is CEO/editor-in-chief of Shelterforce. She lives in Albany, New York, and is a proud small-city aficionado.


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