Friday roundup: Austin MLS vote, Rays demand $650m in subsidies, Islanders renderings, more!

I’m busy trying to figure out whether Congress is really going to rewrite the tax code to give a couple of trillion dollars to rich people or will melt down at the last second like it did with healthcare repeal, so this’ll be in superbrief mode this morning:

Chicago developer offers stadium to Amazon as part of HQ deal, just because, okay?

I’m sorry, what?

A Chicago developer is offering a unique perk in the all-out competition to win Amazon’s second headquarters: Amazon Stadium.

Sterling Bay’s proposal to bring as many as 50,000 Amazon headquarters workers to its Lincoln Yards development includes the potential for a sports and concert venue near the Chicago River.

The developer describes preliminary plans for “a world-class sports and entertainment stadium” in the materials obtained by the Tribune.

And look, there’s a rendering:

That is indeed a stadium, and it indeed says “Amazon” on the field, where there appears to be a soccer match going on. (The Amazon logo is going to be sideways when viewed on TV or by the vast majority of fans in the grandstand, but they can always tweak that later.) The question is: Why? Does Sterling Bay really think that Amazon would like a sports stadium as part of its corporate headquarters, for when the company is bored with dominating retail sales and streaming video and wants to monopolize sports, too? Is this part of some gambit to move the Chicago Fire out of Bridgeview, leaving the suburb with its massive stadium debt that it already can’t pay off? Is it just trying to get “Sterling Bay” associated with “stadium building” in the public mind, so that next time a stadium needs to be built, they’re the ones who get the call?

I think maybe let’s just go with “When a megacorporation like Amazon dangles jobs as a carrot, both local elected officials and local developers tend to lose their minds.” This is so going to make the Tesla subsidy shakedown look like penny-ante stuff, I’m afraid to even watch.

Friday roundup: Tampa official stonewalls, Falcons get sued, Amazon is the new Olympics

Okay, let’s do this thing:

“United States of Subsidies” just scratches the surface of corporate welfare

I’ve been asked by some readers for my thoughts on “United States of Subsidies,” the New York Times series that ran last weekend on the massive amounts of public money ($80 billion a year, by their reckoning) spent by local governments to get companies to relocate or remain in their cities.

I finally had a chance to read it last night, and briefly: I think it’s a decent primer on the problem of corporate welfare and the industry that has grown up to support it. (My favorite bit is probably the nugget buried way at the end of the second article, where a subsidy consultant actually sued computer chip manufacturer Advanced Micro Devices for not seeking a tax break the consultant had recommended. Though the bit about Michael Moore getting subsidies for his anti-corporate-welfare movie “Capitalism: A Love Story” is pretty good, too.) It’s way too focused, though, on companies that accept subsidies and then leave town, and not enough on whether those that stay put and don’t actually do anything for their communities — like the famed Minnesota Dairy Queen that listed on their subsidy form that they had used their $275,000 in public cash to create exactly one minimum-wage job. Likewise, the series gives a bit too much credence to the notion that mayors and other local officials are forced to play this game for fear of being left without any corporate presence, when studies have shown that companies make their location decisions more on the presence of infrastructure (good schools, roads, etc.) than on whether they’re being offered tax breaks — though obviously, they’re happy to take the tax breaks from a locale they want to move to anyway.

All of this has been covered at length before, largely by the pioneering subsidy watch group Good Jobs First, whose Subsidy Tracker provided the bulk of the data for the Times series, and whose director Greg LeRoy penned the original study of local-level corporate subsidies (“No More Candy Store,” available for free here) as well as an excellent book on the subject (“The Great American Jobs Scam,” available for money here). And as Good Jobs First’s Phil Mattera notes on their Clawback blog, the Times apparently screwed up its math in calculating its total subsidy figures:

After getting our raw data, the Times did not consult with us on exactly how it would be used. We thus had no opportunity to warn the paper against the perils of aggregation. Specifically, we were not aware of the paper’s plans to create what it calls its $100 Million Club. [This] ends up with numerous instances in which the totals understate the true amount the big subsidy grabbers have received.

For example, the Times lists a total of $338 million for Boeing, including $218 from South Carolina. Yet it has been estimated that the package Boeing got by locating a new Dreamliner assembly line in the Charleston area could be worth some $900 million.

Apple is said to have received a total of $119 million, yet the Times fails to include more than $60 million in subsidies the company got for a data center in North Carolina.

The Times $100 Million Club also misses some major recipients entirely, including Volkswagen, which got more than $500 million in connection with an assembly plant in Tennessee, and ThyssenKrupp, which got more than $1 billion in subsidies for a steel mill in Alabama.

I also wished the Times series had gone into more detail about proposals for reining in local-level corporate subsidies, instead of just hand-wringing about the problem. (I wrote about some of this myself for In These Times magazine, back around the dawn of time.)

So two cheers for the Times for tackling an important subject, but for anyone interested in the corporate subsidy game as it’s played and what to do about it, this should only be the start of your reading. And let’s hope that for the Times this is only the start of more vigorous coverage of this topic, and not just a one-time attempt at award bait.