Our tax money
As it stands,
Oft ends up
In private hands.

These economically challenging times haven’t ended the golden deals every level of government offers business.

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State and federal statutes remain loaded with these giveaways. They include grants, subsidized loans, tax breaks, and creative special partnerships. The favored corporate method to access this variety of welfare is to advertise a willingness to move to another jurisdiction and to claim to be expanding employment.

That language is music to the ears of governors and mayors. Not only will they open treasury doors, they’ll brag about it. The public propaganda machine kicks in and Mayor X and Governor Y suddenly become brilliant economists, leading their city and state out of the dreaded downturn.

With any luck, their newfound investor friends will remain grateful right through the next election cycle.

Occasionally such “investments” do actually pay off. Thereupon the economic genius of the politicians is confirmed and business-friendly media celebrate the creation of a new economic engine. More often, these “investments” don’t generate any benefits for their home town or state and are never heard from again.

Akademos, Inc., a small online bookseller in my town of Norwalk, Connecticut, is a great example of this procedure. The company is getting $400,000 in loans and grants from the state for its plan to hire seven people. Somehow that math isn’t compelling. Nor is it unusual.

On a grander scale, a mice-breeding offshoot of Jackson Labs is coming to Connecticut, for a mere $291 million gift. We’ll get back to you with a precise job count. It’s not high.

Many big corporations long ago learned to play this game. Just in Connecticut, state taxpayers are funding $20 million for NBC, $18 million for ESPN, $47 million for Cigna Health, and $20 million more for United Bank of Switzerland.

Of course, these outfits would have moved or expanded without the bribes. We simply paid through the nose to make certain that they moved to Connecticut or stayed here. States spill blood in this wasteful zero-sum game.

And now the feds have added a great new development gimmick of their own — selling green cards. If you covet U.S. citizenship and have $500,000 to plunk down on someone’s development scheme, bam, you’re on the road to a passport. The shrewd owner of Jay Peak ski resort in Vermont already has 550 such investors and is seeking 1,000 more. The law allows 10,000 of them annually.

Bringing in lots of high-rolling taxpayers may be good for the real estate market and English-language schools. But why is Uncle Sam selling U.S. citizenship like a commodity to rich foreigners?

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William A. Collins

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. otherwords.org

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