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Sharon DeckerThe unfortunate quest to privatize the state’s business recruitment and job creation efforts took a big step forward yesterday, when the Senate agreed to a House proposal creating a new nonprofit partnership to oversee much of the state’s economic development efforts.

This misguided proposal is a bad deal for North Carolina taxpayers, businesses, and workers—schemes for privatizing economic development have repeatedly proven to be ineffective at job creation, wasteful of taxpayer dollars, and prone to financial mismanagement, conflicts of interest and pay-to-play incentive granting, and the inability to raise private funds in many of the states where they’ve been tried.

The only good news is that the General Assembly finally ended up supporting the House-passed measure, which includes somewhat better taxpayer protections than the original Senate measure.

Perhaps most importantly, the House bill did not include a new incentive program for the film industry, an extra policy tacked onto the Senate version two weeks ago. Given ongoing controversy over the effectiveness of film incentives, the Commerce privatization bill was just not the appropriate place for creating an entirely new incentive program.

A second important improvement over the original Senate measure involves the inclusion of new ethics rules. While the Senate suggested allowing the new nonprofit to develop and implement its own code of ethics—potentially creating legal loopholes for problematic ethical behavior—the final House bill requires that all board members, officers, and staff members remain subject to the existing state ethics act, just like all other state appointees and employees. This will protect taxpayers from the kinds of ethics scandals that have plagued other states’ privatization efforts, as in Wisconsin, Florida, and Texas.

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Partial privatization of the N.C. Department of Commerce took another step closer to reality yesterday when the Economic Development and Global Oversight Committee (or EDGE Committee) reported out updated enabling legislation that authorizes the establishment of a nonprofit corporation to conduct significant pieces of the state’s business development activities. Using last year’s SB 127 as a template, the new version of the bill includes important changes—some for the better, some for the worse, and some that make us go “huh?”

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12-3In case you missed it, the McCrory administration took yet another step in recent days to assure that the always opaque and ripe-for-corruption business of bestowing economic “incentives” (i.e. giveaways to corporations) becomes just a little bit more opaque and even more vulnerable to corrupt practices.

As many folks are already aware, McCrory and his Commerce Department Secretary, Sharon Decker, have been moving to privatize the Department’s business recruiting/incentives work for some time. The plan — not yet fully fleshed out because the General Assembly has yet to formally  sign off on the deal — is to fire a bunch of Commerce Department employees and then recreate and re-establish their functions in a publicly-funded, private nonprofit.  To make matters worse, the whole thing appears to be thoroughly infused with partisan politics as one of McCrory’s top fundraisers has been designated to serve on the board of the new nonprofit (the fundraiser, John Lassiter, finally resigned last week from his position on the renew North Carolina Foundation — a group that exists to generate pro-McCrory propaganda — after months of drum-banging Chris Fitzsimon).

The latest outrage, however, involves the hiring of the new nonprofit’s first executive director. Read More

Sharon DeckerFor years, one area of common ground between conservatives and progressives in North Carolina has been their shared skepticism for business incentives. As analysts and advocates from both camps have shown dozens of times, state and local governments in North Carolina are pouring millions upon millions of dollars down a rat hole on corporate giveaways each year – sometimes just to lure businesses from one county to another.

Over time, the end result is an enormous drain on public resources that breeds cynicism, corruption and special favors and disadvantages homegrown, taxpaying businesses. To make matters worse, virtually every politician who campaigns for public office pledges to reform incentives and then, once in office, finds it impossible to do anything about the problem.

The latest case-in-point is Gov. McCrory who seems bent upon not just using corporate incentives, but dramatically expanding them. If you doubt this, check out reporter Andy Curliss’ article in Raleigh’s News & Observer about the administration’s utterly daft new proposal (given voice by Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker – pictured above) to tax fracking as a way of creating a giant slush fund to attract/bribe corporations: Read More

Later today, Governor McCrory will announce his proposals to convert the Department of Commerce into a public private partnership that administers at least some of the state’s economic development programs.  North Carolina taxpayers should be concerned.

Although we won’t know the specifics of this privatization scheme until the Governor’s announcement, we do know from previous public statements that the plan will likely involve the creation of a nonprofit economic  development authority that receives financial support from both taxpayers and corporate donations in exchange for overseeing a range of activities related to industrial recruitment, existing industry support, and possibly small business development. This may also include administration of the state’s incentive programs—the Job Development Investment Grants (JDIGs), the OneNC Fund, and the Jobs Maintenance and Capital program for large employers.

Privatizing economic development isn’t new—a number of states have experimented with this approach over the past two decades, and the results are not encouraging. According to one recent report, states that have adopted public private partnerships for their economic development efforts have seen the misuse of taxpayer dollars, questionable incentive awards to failing companies, the appearance of pay-to-play incentive granting to those companies providing financial support to the partnership, and frequent lack of transparency and accountability with how the partnership spends taxpayer dollars.

And to top it all off, many of these partnerships haven’t proven to be very effective in generating the job creation results promised

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