No one likes to pay taxes. So, understandably, businesses who can afford to hire lobbyists go to the state capitol every year to figure out how to pay less of them. Some of these large corporations have been so successful, they don’t pay any taxes at all.
Take, for example, the beneficiaries of the R&D tax credit program, which in Arizona is so generous, there is an almost $2 billion carryforward of accrued credits which can be applied for 10 years. This effectively means that there are too many credits and not enough tax liability to absorb them. How would you like the ability to not pay taxes for the next decade?
For “small” businesses with fewer than 150 employees, they are eligible for a “refund” of up to 75% of the excess credits, capped at $5M every year. There is a word for a business receiving a tax refund when you have zero tax liability—it is a subsidy. Any tax system that excludes some businesses from paying while making everyone else pick up the tab is dubious tax policy. But to then allow those same businesses to collect additional subsidies—paid for by all other taxpayers—is downright wrong. It is nothing more than government redistribution to the politically connected.
It is also likely unconstitutional. For good reason, the framers of Arizona’s Constitution were suspicious of corporate interests accruing political power that outsized average taxpayers, seizing preferential treatment for themselves at the expense of everyone else. As such, Article 9, Section 7 of the Constitution, also known as “The Gift Clause,” prohibits donations, grants, or subsidies from the government to corporate or private interests. A refundable tax credit is irrefutably a subsidy.
That has not stopped lawmakers and lobbyists from pushing this year’s expansion of the program through SB1562. This bill would expand the existing program for “small” firms receiving refundable credits from $5M to $10M a year and creates a new program that allows up to $50M a year in unused credits by larger companies to be converted $0.75 on the dollar (i.e. made refundable) for reinvestment.
This is a massive expansion in the refundability of the program and lays the groundwork for all $2 billion to be given away in subsidies to big businesses. And considering the state only generates $850M a year in corporate taxes, lawmakers should instead look to cut corporate income taxes across the board, rather than look to creative ways to hand out $2B in subsidies.
Proponents may argue that these aren’t really subsidies, as the money must be used for qualifying reinvestment projects and that taxpayers ultimately benefit because these projects are a public good because they must be used for “sustainability” or water-saving capital projects or for various workforce development projects or tuition reimbursement. Well, this is a stretch to say the least. What business wouldn’t want regular capital projects designed to save them money overall or training, education, and employee benefits such as tuition reimbursement defrayed? While schemes such as Bernie Sanders “free” tuition to attend woke universities, compliments of the taxpayers, are wildly unpopular with the general public, SB1562 is a creative repackaging. The only hook is, to have your tuition footed by taxpayers, you have to work for a politically connected corporation.
In reality, there isn’t a difference to a business in giving them a bag of cash or reimbursing their normal business costs—it all serves their bottom line. Unfortunately for every other taxpayer, it comes out of their pocketbooks. Despite the army of lobbyists hired to push for SB1562, we hope taxpayers ultimately win the battle this year to expand corporate welfare at the legislature.
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It is no secret that the Club is critical of special interest tax credit programs that distort our tax code and pick winners and losers in the market. Though a few of these tax credits have been enacted by the legislature over the years, there is one program on the books that has grown into the billions and has successfully evaded any real scrutiny: the Research and Development tax credit program.
The Research and Development tax credit program piggybacks off the federal program and operates under the premise that it will increase the amount of investment corporations make in Arizona on research and development. The program is very generous, allowing corporations to claim a 24% credit on the first $2.5M in qualifying expenses and an additional 15% up and above the $2.5M. If a corporation effectively eliminates their tax liability, they are allowed to carry forward the excess credits for up to 10 years. For businesses with fewer than 150 employees, the pot is even sweeter, as they are allowed to claim a refund of up to 75% of the excess credits and cash out up to $5M every year in what is called a “refundable” tax credit. In other words, direct taxpayer subsidies for select businesses.
Because of the sheer size of the R&D tax credit program and the fact that the credits are not capped, the bank of unused tax credits being carried forward has grown to almost $2B! For perspective, the state only generates around $850M in corporate taxes a year – this clearly demonstrates that there is simply not enough corporate income tax liability (taxes being paid) to draw down the available credits. As these unused credits have grown, there has been more pressure from corporate lobbies that currently have zero corporate income tax liability to find creative ways to simply cash the credits out.
This year’s attempt has taken shape in SB1643, which expands the existing program for “small” firms receiving refundable credits from $5M to $10M a year and creates a new program that allows up to $50M a year in unused credits by larger companies to be converted (i.e. made refundable) for reinvestment. This is a massive expansion in the refundability of the program and lays the groundwork for all $2 billion to be given away in subsidies to big business.
Considering how the program has ballooned, lawmakers would be far better served to examine the structure and necessity of the corporate income tax entirely, instead of creating complicated credit schemes.
SB1643 is bad policy and bad politics
Under the provisions of the bill, corporate entities can apply their unused credits at a rate of $0.60 per dollar for qualifying expenses which include everything from “sustainability” projects, updating R&D facilities, “workforce development projects,” tuition reimbursement for employees, and capital expenditures supported by federal matching dollars, or national grant programs.
This isn’t just conjecture—many of these corporations have implemented these activities in the workplace, and SB1643 simply forces taxpayers to now subsidize these woke initiatives.
And while republican lawmakers tell their constituents that they oppose taxpayer subsidies, oppose CRT, and dislike green new deal policies, a majority of Republican Senators voted for SB1643 as did a majority of House Republicans in the Appropriations committee. Their opposition is schizophrenic, to say the least.
Now we are moving into budget season at the legislature, and it is becoming more and more likely that this corporate welfare R&D package will be rammed into the budget. The only question now is when that occurs, who will stand up against this woke taxpayer giveaway, and who will be for it.
Tell Your Senators to Vote NO on Corporate Welfare Bill SB1643!
SB1643 would allow $50M a year in tax credits for R&D companies and increase the “refundability” from $5 M to $10 M a year. There are currently over $1 BILLION in backlogged R&D tax credits because the state programs have generously allowed these companies to entirely zero out their tax liability!!
SB1643 is a straight $10M/year appropriation to these companies subsidized by TAXPAYERS. This is CORPORATE WELFARE and it’s WRONG!!
Send a message to Arizona Senators right now and tell them to vote NO on SB1643!
Arizona lawmakers are currently living in “La La Land.” No, really. They want to dole out $150 million of your dollars to sign checks to woke Hollywood producers to literally California our Arizona.
SB1708, sponsored by Senator David Gowan, passed out of the Senate last week by a vote of 21-7. It provides a tax credit for a percentage of movie production costs: 15% for productions up to $10 million, 17.5% for productions between $10 and $35 million, 20% for productions over $35 million, and the opportunity for an extra 2.5% on top for positions held by Arizona residents, if the production is filmed in a qualified facility or primarily on location, or if it was produced in association with a long-term tenant in a qualified production facility.
The worst part—it’s refundable. This means that if Hollywood producers wipe out their tax liability to zero, the remaining tax credits come as a check from you, the taxpayer.
Movie production is a multi-billion-dollar industry. They do not need a subsidy. But because one state was willing to cut them a check a few decades ago, they now seek the highest bidder. It’s a race to the bottom for Arizona. Very soon, $150 million won’t be enough, and the industry will send more lobbyists down to the Capitol to razzle dazzle lawmakers into doling out more taxpayer dollars.
These production companies are more than able and happy to pick up and jet-set from one location another—even in the middle of production. If Arizona isn’t willing to pay more, another state or country will, and we’ll be left in the dust.
Georgia taxpayers gave the movie industry $1.2 billion last year. To keep up, California, home of actual Hollywood, is doubling its cap from $330 million a year to $660 million. Kevin Costner is currently lobbying the Utah legislature to provide a carveout in their $8.3 million cap for credits, raising it for movie productions in rural areas. Costner is telling Utah he wants to film 5 films there if the cap is raised. And star struck New Mexico recently more than doubled its cap, after spending hundreds of millions from their general fund to pay off a backlog of credits.
But while these states are fighting to out-bid each other, others have scrapped the idea. 13 states have eliminated their Hollywood subsidies in the past 10 years, and several others have scaled theirs back. And for good reason. A recent study of the subsidies in New York, Louisiana, Georgia, Connecticut and Massachusetts found that despite $10 billion in taxpayer dollars spent, there was no statistically significant impact on employment.
If this seems like such a bad idea that it should be illegal—it likely is. The Arizona Supreme Court recently ruled that the government cannot include “anticipated indirect benefits” such as projected sales and tax revenue as part of the consideration with a private party under the Gift Clause in the Arizona Constitution. In other words, Hollywood dazzling lawmakers with projected economic development leading to increased tax revenue is an “irrelevant indirect benefit” that cannot be included in the consideration.
In addition to the bill’s terrible tax policy and obvious unconstitutionality, Arizonans do not want their hard-earned dollars being used to send checks to Hollywood. We do not want to subsidize their woke movies, and do not want thousands of liberal California voters shipped into Arizona on our own dime.
Tell Your Lawmakers to OPPOSE SB1708!
Right now, lawmakers are considering a $150 million REFUNDABLE tax credit for woke Hollywood producers.
Arizonans have been shouting “Don’t California my Arizona” for years. But SB1708 pays to literally California our Arizona, shipping in thousands of Hollywood voters on the taxpayer’s dime. Regardless of the industry, Arizona taxpayers don’t want their hard-earned dollars going to corporate welfare with any refundable credit.
Send a message to Arizona lawmakers today and tell them Don’t California our Arizona: OPPOSE corporate welfare and OPPOSE SB1708!
As usual, bad ideas at the legislature just
don’t seem to die. Lawmakers are considering legislation to expand the “Angel
Investment” Tax Credit Program, a scheme that would dole out millions to
wealthy investors to subsidize their risky venture capital investments in
Arizona. Even worse, these same investors and businesses will also be
exempt from paying any capital gains tax to the state.
Under the bill, employees at the Arizona Commerce Authority will select “qualified” investors (I.E. politically connected millionaires with relationships with the Arizona Commerce Authority) for a generous tax credit to hedge their potential losses in risky new start-up companies. And if the business venture does pan out, the investor can then sell and pay zero to the state in capital gains. Great deal for them, a bad deal for every other taxpayer in the state.
The argument made in defense of the program is that Arizona
needs the tax credit to attract more venture capital to Arizona, otherwise good
ideas won’t locate here. This of course is not true. Good business
ideas will attract capital because investors stand to gain millions of dollars
in profit to do so.
And if a business is unable to
attract the start-up capital it needs without the credit, it means the venture
is extremely risky and should be avoided. After all, we don’t stand to
benefit monetarily from the businesses’ success, why should we therefore
shoulder the losses of its failures? And if a business was to attract the
necessary start-up capital regardless of
the tax credit, why are taxpayers subsidizing a business activity which would
have occurred anyway?
Venture capital investing is inherently risky. Successful
speculations have the potential to enrich their investors immensely. The
Arizona Commerce Authority is not better equipped than the free market to
facilitate these types of transactions or properly gauge risk.
Taxpayers should not be in the business of subsidizing risky
venture capital investments by wealthy investors that stand to reap windfall
tax benefits. It’s a program that picks winners and losers among taxpayers,
among venture capital investors, and among aspiring entrepreneurs.
year HB2732, sponsored by Representative Ben Weninger, is being
sold as both. The Low-Income Housing Tax
program is a federal program by which qualified investors are incentivized
to build housing projects for low-income persons with generous income tax
How it works.
It is a
deal for banks, insurance companies and investors. The Arizona program allows for $8 Million a
year of tax credits that can be matched with the subsidies offered through the
federal program. The bills mirror the
federal LIHTC percentages and can be carried over for 5 years.
illustrate the business model, a $10 Million project qualifies for 9 percent
tax credits. That is $900,000 a year and
$9 Million over the course of the 10 year carry forward period. Banks sell these credits to other investors
who make up a pool to finance the project.
Some projects are even able to bridge financing gaps with other
government programs. But not only are almost the entire project costs
subsidized by the taxpayer, another $2.2 Million is generated through tax write
offs from real estate losses, depreciation and interest expenses.
mechanism is supported by many layers of middlemen who add to the cost of
building these projects. As a result,
the program is lucrative for investors, and very costly for the taxpayers.
How it actually doesn’t work.
several years now, this program has been sharply scrutinized by various parties
including the Office of Government Accountability (OGA), think tanks, and the
Much of the gamesmanship of
the program revolves around the submittal of construction costs which the OGA
determined varied drastically from state to state and project to project.
The average LIHTC project cost $218,000, yet
only $9,400 of it was the cost of the land; a ratio observably out of whack.
This is par for the course for a program which in the past has been scandalized
by construction kick-back schemes. The
program has been gamed in other ways.
Just last Fall, Wells Fargo made an over $2 Billion settlement with the Department of Justice for nation-wide collusion to devalue the tax credits. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been
siphoned from the program in these ways resulting in far fewer units being
built for the poor at a great cost to taxpayers.
at the state nor federal level, did necessary oversight exist to ferret out
inflated budget projections and fraud.
In fact, only seven of the 56 agencies around the country awarding these
credits has been audited in the program’s 30-year history.
And yet the feds continue to soak increasing dollars into the program each year, though the actual number of units being constructed dwindles. According to an investigation conducted by NPR, the $9 Billion LIHTC program is producing fewer units than it did 20 years ago yet taxpayers are paying 66 percent more in tax credits. Aside from the fraud, another factor likely being the many syndicators, consultants, and financiers that work in their margins into the complicated process.
What else this reveals.
The OGA’s report on the vast cost variations in building state to state, reveal another critically important truth. Jurisdictions with onerous and restrictive land use regulations drive the high costs to build there. These incentive programs in fact reward states that cause their own affordable housing crises and fleece taxpayers all at the same time. A report issued by the National Association of Homebuilders and the National Multifamily Housing Council estimated that 32 percent of multifamily costs were attributable to regulation.
In fact, studies of housing prices have shown costs have directly increased with land use regulations. As a result, federal housing affordability spending is almost two times higher in the most regulated states than the least regulated states.
There are better ways.
long-time policymakers address affordable housing for American families by
addressing the root of the problem and tailoring assistance programs that serve
those in poverty, not only those seeking a profit.
Under the new federal administration, director of Housing and
Urban Development (HUD) Ben Carson, has looked to do just that. Instead of continuing
to reward bad behavior by local governments, his agency has discussed attaching
HUD grants to regulatory reforms proven to lower housing costs. HUD’s position that they won’t continue to
aid in the affordable housing problem by subsidizing it – is also a signal to
states that they should look to curb their own contributions to the problem
instead of simply seeking more federal handouts. In Arizona, one of those factors is the
residential rental tax – which disproportionately impacts low-income
land regs is a long-term endeavor and won’t solve the immediate need for
low-income people in unaffordable housing markets.
there are better ways to structure programs than the convoluted LIHTC
program. One such proposal with
bipartisan support are “Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV).” Instead of
incentivizing profiteers to supply housing – HCVs empower individuals and
families to access housing in places they desire to live.
Arizona lawmakers should help poor people and
expansion of this 34-year-old failed federal program in Arizona would be a big
mistake. The bill being pedaled this year is not being backed by advocates for
the poor; but by those who stand to gain the most – insurance companies,
investors and banks. If lawmakers truly
care about the poor – and the taxpayer – they will resoundingly reject HB2732.
Today the Arizona Free
Enterprise Club released a new study evaluating the cost of Low-Income Housing
Tax Credits (LIHTC) in Arizona and Washington and how LIHTC have performed
compared to other government backed housing affordability programs. The review determined
that in both states, LIHTC have led to a significant increase in the cost of development
and construction when compared to similar market rate housing.
In his analysis, economist Everett
Stamm determined that a “lack of oversight and transparency, requirements to
pay higher wages and inadequate cost control measures all attribute to the
higher development costs” associated with LIHTC. Stamm concludes that even if proper reforms
were implemented with LIHTC, other tenant-based programs, such as the Housing
Choice Voucher Program, are better suited to provide housing for low income residents
Evidence that LIHTC drive up
construction costs and fail to keep housing affordable add to the list of
concerns that exist with the program. “There is ample evidence, both from
the Government Accountability Office and the US Department of Justice, that the
Low-Income Housing tax Credit Program has been rampant with fraud and other
criminal activity and lacks basic oversight to determine any tangible benefits,”
said Scot Mussi, President of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club.
“If the legislature is
serious about addressing housing affordability, they should look at options
that are tenant based and that drive down the cost of construction. Low income
housing tax credits accomplish exactly the opposite,” Mussi
In Arizona, there is
proposal to spend $8 Million to expand the LIHTC program, which is being
aggressively pushed by developers and investors that will financially benefit
from the tax credits.
The complete study by the Club on LIHTC can be viewed by clicking HERE.