Steve Vockrodt over at The Kansas City Star has a story about Google wanting to invest $600 million in a data center in Kansas City. If this were the whole story, it would be great news. But the shell game of taxpayer incentives makes this opportunity less than meets the eye. Vockrodt writes:
The Port Authority, or Port KC, ultimately could issue up to $25 billion in bonds over 35 years for the Google data center project, a figure that represents the company’s maximum investment in Kansas City. Think of the $25 billion as a credit limit on a personal credit card. It’s not necessarily an indication of how much Google will invest.
The benefit to Google is that the Port KC can issue Chapter 68 bonds that give Google a property tax exemption for 25 years. Vockrodt goes one step further and makes clear in the story that such subsidies for data centers don’t offer a great return, if any, for taxpayers:
Good Jobs First, a research group often skeptical of corporate incentives, in a 2016 report identified a Google data center project in Oregon from 2006 that received $360 million in subsidies in return for 175 jobs, or $2 million per job. Good Jobs First advised cities and states to treat data center subsidies with caution.
“Internet-based companies have to grow the cloud and they will choose stable areas with cheap electricity,” the report said. “They will barely benefit your local economies because they create so few jobs and often import top-wage labor.”
Once again, Kansas City through its port authority is playing handmaiden to large corporations even when there is so little to gain. (Rest assured, this same story will unfold if/when the USDA considers locations in Missouri.) How is Kansas City supposed to fund infrastructure, education, public safety and all the other basic needs on which we depend if we continually offer exemptions from the taxes needed to provide them?
If taxes are too high for Kansas City to be a competitive place to attract business, then that needs to be addressed fairly for everyone. Offering sweetheart deals to a few while the rest of us pull their weight is no way to operate a city.