This article originally appeared on heartland.org.
All but three states now post at least partial information online showing which companies are receiving economic development subsidies. But the quality and depth of that disclosure varies widely, both among and within states. Three-fourths of major state development programs still fail to disclose actual jobs created or workers trained, and only one in eleven discloses wages actually paid. The best disclosure practices are found in Illinois and Michigan, but even their scores would be near-failing as report card grades.
These are the key findings of “Show Us the Subsidized Jobs,” a report issued by Good Jobs First, a non-profit, non-partisan research center based in Washington, DC.
“Aside from a handful of holdouts, state governments now accept the idea that the public has a right to online data about which companies are receiving taxpayer-funded job subsidies,” said Good Jobs First Executive Director Greg LeRoy. “But with unemployment still high, Americans need to know how many jobs and what kind of wages and benefits their taxpayer investments are generating.”
Double the Number Posting Data
“Show Us the Subsidized Jobs” is the third in a series of reports Good Jobs First has produced on subsidy transparency since 2007. In that period the number of states with at least some online disclosure has doubled from 23 to 47. The District of Columbia has also embraced transparency. Over the course of the reports, Good Jobs First has raised the bar in its rating criteria, reflecting rising public expectations about government transparency and improving web technology.
“Transparency by itself is no guarantee that a subsidy program is accountable or effective,” said Good Jobs First research director Philip Mattera, principal author of the report. “But it is the foundation for any meaningful assessment.”
“Show Us the Subsidized Jobs” rates the reporting practices of 246 key state economic development subsidy programs on how well they disclose online information such as company-specific award amounts, job-creation and wage-rate figures, the geographic location of subsidized facilities, and details on the recipient company and the project.Programs are also evaluated in terms of how easy it is to find and use the online data. Each program is rated on a scale of 0 to 100, and the program scores for each state are then averaged to derive a state score.
The report’s key findings:
- Forty-six states and the District of Columbia provide online recipient disclosure for at least one key subsidy program. This is up from 37 in late 2010 and 23 in 2007.
- The states with the best average program scores are: Illinois (65), Michigan (58), North Carolina (48), Wisconsin (46), Vermont (43), Maryland (42) and Texas (40). The most-improved state is Oregon, which had no disclosure in 2010 and is now in the top ten with an average of 38.
- The four states still lacking online disclosure are: Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho and Kansas.
- Of the 246 programs examined, 135 of them, or 55 percent, have online recipient disclosure (up from 42 percent in 2010). The average score for the programs with disclosure is 39. Only seven programs score 75 or better.
- Of the 135 programs with disclosure, 101 require some degree of job reporting, but only 59 report actual jobs created or workers trained. Only 47 provide any form of wage or payroll data, and only 21 provide wage data on jobs actually created or workers trained.
- Only six states practice consistency by providing online recipient reporting for all of the key programs we examined: Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.
- States with disclosure often have major discrepancies in the quality of reporting from one program to another. In Minnesota and Virginia, for example, there is a spread of more than 50 points between their highest and lowest program scores.
- Consistent with our previous state accountability report cards, the existence and quality of subsidy transparency follow no partisan pattern. There are “red” and “blue” states among both disclosure leaders and laggards.
“With most programs still failing to disclose actual jobs created or wages paid, taxpayers cannot even begin to weigh costs versus benefits,” LeRoy concluded. “Taxpayers have the right to know exactly what they are getting in return for their economic development investments.”