Tag Archives: tax incentives

Come On Down to Big Phil’s Big Incent-a-palooza!

“YOU get a tax incentive! YOU get a tax incentive! And YOU get a tax incentive! In fact, ALL of you get a tax incentive!”

This appears to be the nuts of Phil Scott’s plan for boosting our economy. The guy who once told VTDigger “I like incentives” certainly does; over the course of his gubernatorial campaign, he’s floated tax-incentive ideas that cover just about every contingency.

It is his favorite approach to boosting growth. It costs nothing up-front; you can stage a shiny photo opportunity with every recipient; and the fallout is vague, hard to measure, and located somewhere in the future.

Unfortunately, there is little to no evidence that tax incentives accomplish anything. At best, they are blunderbusses in a target-shooting contest. At worst, they are just plain giveaways that hurt necessary government programs.

Officially, the state calls these programs “tax expenditures,” which is the appropriate term. It reminds us that every time we offer an incentive, we are forgoing tax revenue. It should be evaluated the same way we’d review a government program: does it work, and is it worth the money?

What’s worse, Vermont’s existing incentives are problematic due to a lack of documentation and oversight. And we need more of that?

There has been, naturally, no counting the cost of all these giveaways. Perhaps that’s why Scott’s own website fails to disclose any specific incentive ideas; if he presented the list all in once place, it’d be downright embarrassing.

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Hey look: another failing business-incentive program!

Remember a couple years ago when New York launched “Startup NY,” an ambitious, expensive business incentive program? Vermont officials looked on with envy and concern as a program they couldn’t possibly match went into effect — with a barrage of slick TV ads saturating the Vermont airwaves, no less.

Republicans used Startup NY as a cudgel when attacking Governor Shumlin for not being business-friendly. Shumlin used it as something of a bargaining chip to get the Legislature to approve his desired incentive programs.

Well, the Cuomo administration just issued its required annual status report on Startup NY — months after the due date, and released at 4:30 pm on Friday afternoon heading into the Fourth of July weekend.

Yep, a newsdump. And yep, the report was bad news.

The companies that moved into the StartUp NY network of tax-free zones have created just 408 of the more than 4,100 jobs they promised to add to the state’s employment rolls within five years, according to a long-delayed report released late Friday by Empire State Development.

Well, now we know why the report was “long-delayed” and released at the last possible moment before a three-day weekend. Nobody in the Cuomo administration wanted to face questions about it.

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First Look: Brandon Who?, candidate for Lieutenant Governor

The Candidate, against the obligatory Vermont landscape.

The Candidate, in the obligatory Vermont landscape setting.

Last Saturday, after the Democratic State Committee meeting, I got the chance to sit down with Brandon Riker, who is (I think) the only declared candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Vermont. (See campaign website here.)

The 28-year-old Marlboro resident made waves on July 15, when he reported a campaign warchest of over $100,000. Granted, 90% of that came from himself and his family, but it made a statement of serious intent.

Quick impression: he’s energetic, full of ideas, and wants to make a difference. Whether that and a self-financed campaign will get him anywhere is another question. For him, unlike most candidates, raising the money was the simple part. Now he has to make a name for himself in Democratic circles, build an organization, attract support across the state, and almost certainly fend off some better-known Democrats in what promises to be a lively Lite-Gov primary.

Riker may be young, and may never have run for office before, but he cites more than a decade of political experience:

I’ve campaigned for progressive causes since I was 16 years old. John Kerry, Barack Obama, Jon Tester [in Montana], Mark Begich [in Alaska]. I’ve wanted to work on the hard races — the ones critical for Democratic control. It’s been 14 years since a Democrat was Lieutenant Governor, and we haven’t mounted a serious challenge in years.

Which is true, but probably won’t be true in 2016. With incumbent Phil Scott persistently hinting at a run for governor, top Democrats are sniffing opportunity. We’ve heard names like Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell and Senate Majority Leader Philip Baruth, among others, as possible candidates (as well as Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning on the Republican side). That would seem to put Riker at a huge disadvantage in terms of name recognition and established credibility among Democratic voters and donors.

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