Blog Posts

« Back to blog post list

DC group says public is owed more data and accountability re: tax breaks given big projects

dcogcadmin | February 11, 2015

Wags in Maryland last year enjoyed making fun of the millions in tax forgiveness there for film production, calling that giveaway “the real ‘House of Cards'” after legislative analysts said the returns were small.   

Now a labor-backed group in the District of Columbia, Good Jobs First, is reporting a study issued in February on its own frustrating search to track promised benefits of DC tax breaks here–how many jobs, who gets them, and at what wages.  

Acknowledging some good DC policy, the group says assisted projects are subject to detailed advance review to vet the promises.  

But when the projects begin, then come the problems of tracking results.

Progress reports are owed to the DC Chief Financial Officer on actual results in terms of the economic development goals, but the group says they proved hard to get.  

When GJF asked for the forms, they say the CFO office stonewalled, calling the request “overly broad” — why? It required searching piles of paper.  (The report reproduces some handwritten responses.)

The forms they did finally receive showed targets were imprecise and reporting limited.

Not surprisingly, the advocates urge transparency improvements and policy changes as well

— stronger up-front standards for job creation and job quality (such as were added in 2012 to the $32 million deal with tech start-up Living Social after public outcry from DC Fiscal Policy Institute and others);

— then transparency and accountability by disclosure of final details of the tax subsidy; 

— after work starts, detailed reporting of job creation and job quality outcomes for projects; and finally 

— recapturing of subsidies when deals fail to meet predetermined job quality and/or job creation standards (as some are predicting for the troubled Living Social company).

Echoing many calls here and elsewhere for more “open data,” the report says, “The best way to disclose this information is through an online database of economic development subsidy deals and their details. Databases save agencies time and money in complying with information requests like ours.”

Patrick Madden’s WAMU-FM report on the Good Jobs First study headlines “shoddy record keeping.”