Thursday, March 13, 2008

All Lucrative Offers Considered

Another shocking tale of corporate greed in America. A highly successful business, full of wealthy executives and staff, shaking down the local government of one of the poorest cities in America for millions in tax subsidies. The gory details from the Washington Post.

[The District of Columbia] has negotiated a $40 million deal .... to keep the company's headquarters in the city, granting tax abatements over the next two decades

You may think its only a matter of time before advocates for the poor are staging protest rallies and calling for Congressional investigations into this obvious misappropriation of the public treasury. Until, that is, I reveal what is behind the ellipsis in that quote above.

That rich corporation was (drumroll, please)

National Public Radio (ta-da!)

Just when you thought the billions of dollars in direct government subsidies, tax advantaged contributions, and free use of government owned facilities and equipment might be enough to keep afloat "public" broadcasting in this country, their grasping hand reaches out and grabs the government of DC by the throat. Give us more money or we're taking your beloved institution and leaving! When did Carl Pohlad buy NPR?

NPR could have gone "anywhere" the mayor said, adding that the 20-year tax abatements and planned street improvements in the neighborhood were necessary incentives.

Anywhere? Our National Radio Station can cover news from our National Capital from anywhere? Paducah, Kentucky? Jerkwater Flatts, ND? East Bumblefark, MD?

Close, on that last one:

Montgomery County officials presented a package that "caused us to take a second look" at a location near the Silver Spring Metro station, he said.

County officials spent months trying to lure the company, crafting scenarios including one that would have provided about $32 million in permanent property tax breaks because NPR is a nonprofit with an educational mission.

The county also offered to build a parking lot for the company that would have been worth about $18 million, said Diane Schwartz Jones, a top aide to County Executive Isiah Leggett (D).

It seems they could have gone "anywhere" as long as the bid was at least $40 million of government money. But loyalty won the day! As the distinguished gentlewoman from DC, Eleanor Holmes Norton, put it:

"I knew NPR would not do that to us," said Norton

Do what? In addition to the money, demand the City Council members get Garrison Keillor's face tattooed on their rear ends? (Don't get smug DC, I hear Paducah Kentucky is seriously considering upgrading their offer to include this.)

Neil O. Albert, deputy mayor for planning and economic development, said that NPR will not pay property taxes on the building for 20 years, saving $40 million. The city has agreed not to raise property taxes by more than 3 percent on the station's Massachusetts Avenue building for two decades, or until NPR sells it.

A pretty sweet deal there. But it's not like DC actually has a need for $40 million or anything. They've solved all their problems with crime, education, health, welfare, and high tax rates, right? They were just looking for a way to distribute their vast surpluses.

Actually, no. DC is like most urban, liberal enclaves, a vast, insatiable, sucking black hole of tax dollars. And the game of giving a tax free palace to NPR is not zero sum. If there are winners, there will also be losers, that money has got to come from somewhere. Believe it or not, that happens to be the ATM machine known as private business.

Nicholas Deoudes, who owns three buildings less than a mile from the future NPR location, said that his property taxes increased last year from $13,614 to $36,151. Deoudes, who has owned the buildings for 29 years, said the city needs to help longtime business owners who stayed when the area was a "ghost town."

"That's criminal," Deoudes said about the NPR deal. "My assessments went up . . . while somebody else got it for 20 years with no property taxes. They're handing out benefits to the big guys and leaving the small-time guys like myself and my tenant out of business. We're picking up the tab for somebody else."

Let's not forget, the "big guys" in this case are the biggest guys of all, the government.

Of course, the reason DC is giving NPR more money is to retain all those high price jobs within their borders. Those salaries all being dependent on other government handouts. A vicious little circle. But you can see why DC is happy to screw over private business. They have the unfortunate luck of having to produce something of value to stay in business. There's no guarantee they'll be around in 5, 10, 20 years. On the other hand, NPR, like most government programs, is forever.

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