“There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” That was my high school biology teacher’s favorite expression. He used it every time he wanted to remind us about the trade-offs in nature. Nothing is gained without something else being lost. Even when the trade-offs aren’t immediately apparent, they still exist. It’s true in nature and it’s true in public policy.
The adage popped into my mind when I heard that the Google, enticed by $100 million in state and county government concessions, decided to locate its new facility in Lenoir, North Carolina. In addition to a Jobs Development Investment Grant from the state, Google receives 30-years of tax reprieves from the city, county and state governments.
The executives at Google must think that they’ve received a free lunch, but I wonder if they’ve stopped to consider the trade-offs. By not paying taxes for 30 years, Google wins but deprives the state and county of revenues that are needed to support the community infrastructure. Two generations of Lenoir’s school children will graduate without having so much as one textbook paid for by Google. It’s simply not fair; not to the community, not to other small businesses, not to the taxpayers.
Businesses, especially industry leaders like Google, Dell and Dole Foods, need to support communities with more than jobs; they need to pay their fair share of taxes to help support the community infrastructure.
It’s up to North Carolina’s government leaders to create a business incentive program that is fair to all stakeholders. Until this happens, communities, small businesses and taxpayers will be asking, “Where’s our free lunch?”