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Thursday, December 17, 2015

The new era for subsidy disclosure begins

Yesterday, December 15, was the first day the new Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) subsidy reporting rules came into effect. From now on, every state and local government's annual financial reports will be required to report on tax subsidies they give, or even simply lose revenue to (say, a school district losing revenue to a city-granted property tax abatement). This will be the biggest increase in subsidy transparency in the 20-odd years I have been studying the issue.

Good Jobs First's Greg LeRoy put it well: "In the history of incentive reform, it is no exaggeration to refer to Before 77 and After 77. When this new data starts flowing in 2017, we will finally have a price tag on corporate welfare like never before." As I told GASB in my comments in January, this could put me out of the business of estimating corporate subsidies, and that would be a great thing because we would have really useful data comparable across states and cities.

With good data, we could finally make inroads into important questions, starting with whether investment incentives work -- in the sense that governments which give more incentives have something concrete to show for it in terms of unemployment rates, income, or poverty reduction. This is a question Richard Florida has tried to answer using Louise Story's New York Times subsidy database, but with weak data it's hard to be confident in statistical results. But now we stand on the brink of having good data.

Of course, we will have to wait until late 2017 to get it, since most government fiscal years will end June 30, 2017. But I think we are entitled to a partial celebration now.