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North Carolina’s economic development efforts took a turn for the worse last night, when the Senate passed a bill that privatizes the state’s business recruitment, retention, and development activities. A similar proposal will likely pass the House today, and while the lower chamber’s privatization plan is marginally better than the Senate’s scheme, both leave a lot to be desired in terms of ensuring more effective job creation and protecting taxpayer dollars.

Privatizing job creation efforts is hardly a new idea, although it’s proven to generate more scandals than results in the sixteen states that have experimented with this approach. According to the General Assembly’s own Fiscal Research Division, the kinds of economic development public private partnerships envisioned in the House and Senate bills haven’t proven themselves any more effective at boosting job creation in the states that adopted them than in those states that simply kept their job recruiting efforts inside agencies of state government.   At the same time, FRD and other researchers have found that these privatization schemes have been marked by financial mismanagement (Wisconsin), conflicts of interest and pay-to-play incentive-granting (Texas and Florida), and the inability to raise private funds, leaving taxpayers on the hook (Missouri).

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This is the 6th post of a Budget and Tax Center blog series on public services and programs that face cuts in the budget process or have been underfunded in past years. See the other posts here.

If the Senate budget passes this year, rural communities are going to be living through a nightmare. Despite promises by the McCrory administration to support economic development in rural North Carolina, the budget passed by the state Senate last week continues long-term disinvestment in the very initiatives that rural communities need in order to create jobs and grow their local economies.

For most of the past 30 years, the state’s primary actor in promoting economic development in the state’s 85 rural counties was the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center. Incorporated as a state-charted nonprofit in the late 1980s, the Rural Center used a mix of state funding and private fundraising to support a range of rural development work—everything from small town revitalization efforts and building rehabilitation grants, to small business lending and workforce training programs.

Over the past three years, however, the legislature has significantly reduced state investment in these important activities, undermining the state’s ability to promote job creation and economic revitalization in rural communities, many of which are still grappling with long-term decline in manufacturing. Even in the darkest period of the Great Recession in FY 2009, the state strongly supported these efforts by funding the Rural Center at $24 million. Unfortunately, the new legislative majority in 2011 significantly reduced support for rural development, cutting the Rural Center’s budget down to $16 million.

Then, in last year’s budget, the General Assembly eliminated all state funding for the Rural Center, instead opting to move some of these operations into a newly-created Division of Rural Economic Development in the N.C. Department of Commerce. As part of this move, the legislature reduced state funding for rural development even further, from $16 million in FY 2012-13 for the old Rural Center down to just $13.8 million in FY 2013-14 for the new Rural Development Division, of which $2.5 million was dedicated to a newly created Limited Resource Communities grant program intended to support economic development specifically in designated low-resource communities (e.g., the poorest 40 counties in the state). And the damage to rural development extends beyond the dollar reductions—the new division simply doesn’t carry out many of the specialized initiatives once conducted by the Rural Center: the state no longer supports small business lending in rural areas, targeted rural workforce development, or small town revitalization efforts.

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An important measure of a positive jobs report is whether progress is being made in creating enough jobs to recover all the jobs that were lost during the Great Recession. By this measure, however, today’s jobs report from the Division of Employment Security reveals that too many of the state’s metro areas are falling behind.

Despite falling unemployment rates, most of North Carolina’s metro areas are not creating jobs fast enough to fill this jobs hole. Five years into the current recovery, ten out of the state’s 14 metro areas have yet to reclaim the jobs lost during the recession, and it will take six of them more than a decade to create enough jobs to return to pre-recession levels at the current rate of employment growth. In one metro—Rocky Mount—it will take almost a century to get back to pre-recession employment levels at the current pace of job creation.

As long as some metros continue to lag behind, the state’s overall economic recovery will continue to struggle, despite a falling unemployment rate.

Follow me below the fold for a summary of each metro’s job creation record over the last year:

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Tax cuts never live up to the extravagant promises of job creation and economic growth so often made by their supporters, and last year’s tax reductions are unlikely to turn out any differently. The most recent example is Kansas, which enacted massive tax cuts in 2011. Two years later the state has experienced slower job growth than the national average, contraction in the number of businesses employing people, and loss of its AAA bond rating resulting from its catastrophic, 50% loss in revenue.

While there remains no consensus among academic economists that tax cuts are a strategy to grow the economy—instead, evidence is mounting of their harm—some think tanks keep trying to play the same hand to get a different result. One example is the Beacon Hill Institute, which has frequently deployed its State Tax Analysis Modeling Program (STAMP) during tax cut debates in various states across the country, including last year in North Carolina. Using this model, Beacon Hill claims to show that lowering taxes, or refusing to raise them, will benefit state economies. In the case of North Carolina, they also went a step further to claim that all income groups get a tax cut on average.

A new report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reveals a number of serious flaws in the STAMP approach that undermine the accuracy of its claims. In doing so, it calls into question the rosy scenario Beacon Hill paints for tax-cutting states like North Carolina.

Follow me below the fold for are some of the problems identified by ITEP:

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Three counties get 56 percent of total incentive dollars

The money North Carolina spends on incentives to grow businesses and create jobs overwhelmingly favors the state’s most wealthy urban areas at the expense of the state’s most distressed—often rural—areas that need the most help, according to a report released yesterday by the Budget & Tax Center.

The state has five major incentive programs that were originally created to target business development resources to economically distressed and rural areas in the state. These programs are known as the OneNC Fund, the Job Development Investment Grant (JDIG), the Jobs Maintenance and Capital Fund, the Industrial Development Fund (IDF), and the IDF-Utility Fund. Unfortunately, the programs have not lived up to their promise and have invested more of these resources in the 20 wealthiest counties (designated Tier 3 counties by the Department of Commerce) than in the poorest 40 counties (designated Tier 1), the report finds.

Specifically, the report looks at the incentive awards made by these five programs from 2007 to 2013 and finds the following mismatches in investment:

North Carolina has awarded more than triple the amount of incentive dollars to projects in the wealthiest twenty counties than projects in the state’s 40 most distressed counties. If the state were truly targeting economic development resources to the regions that need it most, we would have spent more in the counties that are most distressed and need investment the most. Unfortunately, we see the opposite. The Department of Commerce has granted more than $840 million through its major incentive programs, and $592 million—more than 70 percent of the money—went to the state’s least distressed, Tier 3 counties.

The state‘s incentive projects promised to create or retain two jobs in the 20 wealthiest counties in the state for every one job promised to the 40 poorest counties. Given that the distressed Tier 1 counties are the most in need of jobs, effectively targeted incentive programs would attempt to deliver more jobs to these counties than to the wealthier Tier 3 counties. Yet the opposite is happening—the state has implemented incentive projects that promised to create almost 90,000 jobs in the state’s least distressed counties, more than double the 42,235 jobs promised to the most distressed Tier 1 counties.

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