They’re not paying their way

If this were an Annie Hall world, there would be subtitles to tell us what the words directed at us really mean. For example, when Amazon announced it was pulling out of a secretive agreement with New York City officials to use $3 billion (that’s billion) to build a campus in Queens, it had this to say: “For Amazon, the commitment to build a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials who will be supportive over the long-term.”

And the subtitle would have read, “We want other people’s money for our own use.”

Given the fact that Amazon, for the second year in a row, is paying no federal taxes, it is difficult to work up much sympathy for the corporation’s plight—least of all in Nevada, which can ill afford corporate welfare, yet has been handing it out like a drunken sailor for the last eight years, including some nice bundles for—Amazon.

It wasn’t always that way. Nevada was once known for keeping corporate incentives lean and low. Under Gov. Brian Sandoval, who provided Tesla with the largest per capita corporate welfare package of any state in U.S. history, corporations knowing a soft touch when they see one have beat a path to this state’s door. There might as well be signs on our border highway crossings, “Welcome Executives to the Corporate Welfare State.” Nor is anything likely to change soon. New Gov. Steve Sisolak not only encouraged the giveaway to the Raiders corporation for its move to Las Vegas, but the Raiders corporation is now a subsidizer of Sisolak in return—Raiders President Marc Badain was a “special guest” at a private campaign fundraiser for Sisolak last year, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. With that kind of garbage-in/garbage-out arrangement, what disincentive do politicians have to foster corporate welfare?

That may be why the Nevada Legislature lets this kind of thing go on without requiring scrutiny—independent scrutiny—of whether these deals pay off or not. As we reported last month (“Exit Sandoval,” Jan. 10), so far the cost to the public of the Tesla shakedown is $34,042 per job. But as Brian Bonnenfant of the Center for Regional Studies has said, more analysis is needed to know what the revenue gains and housing construction and other factors have been and thus whether it pays for Nevada. But like Republicans in Congress who refused to fund any follow-up studies to learn whether their “welfare reform” legislation worked, Nevada assiduously avoids finding out whether kowtowing to giant corporations pays off.

It’s a little difficult to fault Amazon, Tesla or other huge corporations that, in getting to their sizes, lose touch with the effect they can have on communities. They’re going to get what the market will bear, and it is a common belief in executive suites that companies should not pay any taxes.

So it is heartening to know that some corporations that do business in Nevada still have consciences. Patagonia, for instance, is returning the money it gained from what it calls the “irresponsible” federal tax cut bill last year by distributing the $10 million to charities, communities and organizations benefiting the environment and workers.

Which corporation really deserves the good will of Nevadans?