A New York Times investigation of the extensive tax breaks that Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump’s business enterprises received over the past several decades is helping to bring scrutiny to the practice of local property tax abatements and other local economic incentives. Local officials consistently afforded Trump deals which allowed him to pay very little in taxes on the properties he has built and in some cases totally recoup building costs through tax forgiveness.
The article focuses on the nine construction projects Mr. Trump has overseen in New York City since his solo developer debut in 1980. According to the article, Trump’s real estate development projects have “reaped at least $885 million in tax breaks, grants, and other subsidies” in New York City alone. The largest and most detailed example the article discusses is how Trump’s Grand Hyatt Hotel, which cost an estimated $120 million to build in 1980, has received $359.3 million in forgiven or uncollected taxes to date due to a 40-year deal he struck with the city.
The New York Times’ case study on Trump’s tax treatment is just one example of bad economic development policies that state and local governments adopt all too often. A Good Jobs First study of more than 4,200 economic incentive awards in 14 states (including New York) found that 80 to 96 percent of funds went to large corporate interests. These interests, while promising to bring a plethora of well-paying jobs to communities, often do not deliver on their promises, or do so but only at a very high cost to the community.
This cost comes in the form of decreased tax revenues for the local government. Large firms have little incentive to invest in a community compared to small businesses because the success of the overall corporation depends very little on any single community. Meanwhile, the “business friendly” tax deals afforded to the companies deplete local funds for infrastructure and education, deteriorating the long-term human capital necessary to build a sustainable economy by attracting businesses that require skilled workers for high-paying jobs.
Trump is just one of many developers who use tax incentive programs intended to revitalize economic growth. Sadly, Trump’s business dealings are being reported on only because he is running for President. These developers often fall very short of their economic promises while profiting hugely from taxpayer money. Local and state governments should stop using tax incentives and other subsidies to attract businesses and encourage economic development. Instead, they should expand education opportunities and infrastructure spending to directly invest in their communities and cultivate the skills that top-ranking firms need.