John Locke Update / Research Brief

Cooper Gives a Corporation $56 million Then Blasts Corporate Tax Cuts

posted on in Economic Growth & Development, Fiscal Insight, Spending & Taxes
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Gov. Roy Cooper opposes corporate tax cuts and giveaways. At least publicly.

In his 2017 State of the State address, he made them sound like an occult ritual: “We cannot sacrifice education at the altar of even more corporate tax cuts or giveaways that are mostly for the wealthiest.”

But does Cooper actually oppose them or not? The end of June would have confused anyone looking for consistency.

One June 27 Cooper’s office issued a press release proclaiming grants to Lowe’s Companies, Inc. They included a $54.1 million Jobs Development Investment Grant (JDIG) plus a $2 million One North Carolina (OneNC) grant.

The money would help Lowe’s “locate a major new technology center in Charlotte, creating more than 1,600 new jobs.”

The very next day, June 28, Cooper’s office issued a press release announcing his veto of the state budget. His reasons? “It values corporate tax breaks over classrooms, gimmicks over guaranteed school construction, and political ideology over people.”

The budget included a reduction in the franchise tax. North Carolina is one of only 16 states with a franchise tax, which double taxes on business assets. The estimated effect of this change would allow North Carolina companies to retain $255.2 million in 2020-21.

Cooper stressed that in his view, reducing the franchise tax would come at the expense of teacher pay raises: “Instead of another corporate tax break, let’s pay our teachers and show them the respect they deserve.”

When Cooper said that, how is it that some small part of his brain didn’t protest, “Hey, didn’t we just yesterday give Lowe’s $56 million’s worth of not showing teachers the respect they deserve? Didn’t we tell the whole state that corporate giveaways required sacrificing education on the altar?”

Meanwhile, for half a year now, Tyler Duke of WRAL has been pressing the governor and his Commerce Department for details on their incentives bid to Apple. Cooper has steadfastly — perhaps illegally — refused to break secrecy.

So it’s still a mystery how much teacher disrespect Cooper was prepared to fork over to the … richest corporation in the world.

In the meantime, the governor has been very busy making giveaways to corporations. In the last three months alone, Cooper announced nearly $70 million’s worth of giveaways to 35 different companies.

Job creation for me, teacher disrespect for thee

The reason for all these giveaways to corporations — JDIG, OneNC, and OneNC Small Business Program grants — is to “create jobs.” Grant amounts represent state payments that will be made if the recipient companies meet certain expectations. (In the case of JDIG payments, they will be made over 12 years.)

What about job creation? With respect to the company receiving the giveaway, the underlying rationale for it is sound: If we make it less expensive on this corporation to do business in North Carolina, it’ll make it easier for this corporation to expand and create jobs.

The governor wants to do it piecemeal, corporation by corporation, photo op by photo op, press release by press release.

The problem is, state grants and giveaways require redirecting money from other taxpayers and businesses. So the good that is done for the recipient company comes at the expense of good not done by all the other companies, Mom & Pop businesses, and taxpayers doing business with them.

That’s why the net effect of these kinds of incentives programs is, if anything, likely negative. The end result is fewer jobs created overall than otherwise.

By reducing the franchise tax, on the other hand, the General Assembly would cut to the chase and make the environment for job creation better across the board. Their underlying rationale is stronger: If we make it less expensive on companies to do business in North Carolina, it’ll make it easier for companies to expand and create jobs.

The franchise tax cut wouldn’t require redirecting others’ money first. It would let companies keep a little more of their own. You’d think the governor would appreciate the legislature speeding job creation along.

Instead, Cooper leveled an attack based on a standard he doesn’t even hold. Go figure.

Jon Sanders is an economist studying state regulations, that spreading kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies and research editor at the John Locke Foundation, Jon gets in the weeds of all kinds of policy… ...

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