Tomorrow the Wichita City Council will consider economic development incentives designed to secure new jobs in Wichita at NetApp. Few Kansans, however, are probably aware of the entire scope of the incentive package and the harm it causes.
NetApp is asking both the City of Wichita and Sedgwick County to provide an economic development incentive to the company in exchange for bringing jobs to Wichita. The proposed amount is $312 per year per job from each body, for up to five years. City documents indicate that NetApp’s intent is to create 418 new jobs, and the maximum grant is capped at $418,000 from each body.
City documents also calculate the benefit-cost ratio, which is given as 3.93 to one. When considering benefit-cost ratios, we also need to realize that the “benefits” in the calculation are in the form of increased tax revenue paid to the city, county, etc. There is no consideration of actually rewarding the taxpayers that pay for — and assume the risk of — economic development incentives. Furthermore, these benefits are not like profits that business firms earn. Instead, they are in the form of taxes that government takes.
In one sense, this proposed incentive is a refreshing change. Instead of using programs like industrial revenue bonds, community improvement districts, EDX, tax increment financing, sales tax bonds, forgivable loans, and other programs, the city and county are proposing cash. Instead of confusing programs where the economic costs are difficult to understand — and sometimes hidden from public view — the city and county will simply pay cash.
But what Wichita and Sedgwick County will pay is just a small portion of the total incentives NetApp is likely to receive. City documents often detail the incentive programs contemplated by the Kansas Department of Commerce. But the city documents for this item, as well as publicly available county documents, don’t mention these.
A June letter from the Department of Commerce to NetApp lays out the potential benefits from the state. As detailed in the letter, the programs with potential dollar amounts are: Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK), up to $7,705,535; Kansas Industrial Training with PEAK, up to $160,800; sales tax savings of $6,880,000; personal property tax exemption, $11,913,682; and High Performance Incentive Program (HPIP), $8,500,000. The total of these is $35,160,017.
PEAK allows companies to retain 95 percent of their Kansas payroll withholding tax for a period. According to the Department of Commerce document, this effectively allows NetApp to retain an estimated 4.9 percent of what it pays these employees. See Kansas PEAK program: corporate welfare wrapped in obfuscation.
The nearly $12 million in personal property tax exemption arises from a 2006 law whereby the state no longer taxes business equipment and machinery for all companies. This is not a targeted incentive for NetApp; it is something that all companies in Kansas benefit from.
The document also informs NetApp that it should qualify for the High Performance Incentive Program (HPIP), which offers a 10 percent tax credit on the qualified net, new capital investment.
I wonder: If the city and county recalculated their benefit-cost ratios, this time including the cost of the portion of the Kansas Department of Commerce incentives paid for by Wichita and Sedgwick County residents, what would the investment look like?
Kansas is not the only state that NetApp is receiving millions from. North Carolina is victim, too.
Today’s Wall Street Journal carries an article written by Charles G. Koch, chairman of the board and CEO of Wichita-based Koch Industries that warns of the rise of cronyism and the harm it causes (Charles G. Koch: Corporate cronyism harms America).
NetApp appears to have mastered the process that Charles Koch warns of: “We are on dangerous terrain when government picks winners and losers in the economy by subsidizing favored products and industries. There are now businesses and entire industries that exist solely as a result of federal patronage. Profiting from government instead of earning profits in the economy, such businesses can continue to succeed even if they are squandering resources and making products that people wouldn’t ordinarily buy.”
NetApp is not the only economic development incentive the council will consider tomorrow. As each program is approved, as more economic development is directed by government, we risk another harm that Koch warns of: “Put simply, cronyism is remaking American business to be more like government. It is taking our most productive sectors and making them some of our least.”