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Subsidy Accountability Report: Wyoming is the Worst

December 15, 2011

CASPER, Wyo. - Wyoming's version of "Let's Make a Deal" is a little too generous, according to a new report which looks at tax breaks and subsidies for businesses.

The Good Jobs First study examines state requirements for those investments, and ranks Wyoming 49th out of the 50 states when it comes to ensuring money spent creates jobs.

Dan Neal, executive director of the Equality State Policy Center, says the state has long tried to find ways to diversify the economy. The governor recently announced he wants to spend $15 million on incentives for data-center companies.

"These efforts are all well-intentioned, but there's no reason to just give the money away and say, 'Gee, we really hope you'll come here.' "

It's reasonable, Neal says, to require companies accepting the subsidies, tax breaks or other incentives to create good-paying jobs in return. In fact, the report finds many states are already doing that - with Nevada setting some of the highest standards.

Report author Philip Mattera says subsidies, incentives and cash grants can be useful tools for states interested in creating good-paying jobs with benefits, but only if that's clear up front.

"The point is that, unless you set these conditions ahead of time, you really can't complain about the outcome. And if you do have these measures in place, you have some recourse."

The sales-tax exemption for manufacturers, one of Wyoming's most expensive economic development programs, deserves immediate scrutiny, Neal says. The exemption has cost the state more than $32 million in three years.

"We know that the refineries in the state have been taking the manufacturing sales-tax xemption, and at the same time, the refinery down in Cheyenne has eliminated something like 40 jobs."

The economic turmoil can explain some job losses, but Neal says the state's own reports show the exemption has been claimed mostly by manufacturers already in the state, not new businesses bringing new jobs.

The full report, "Money for Something: Job Creatiion and Job Quality Standards in State Economic Development Subsidy Programs," is online at GoodJobsFirst.org.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - WY