State Government Business Subsidies in the News

Federal energy subsidies to business are a hot national topic thanks to the Solyndra scandal. Flying below the radar—and deserving more national media attention—are grants and other targeted incentives given to businesses by state governments. There is little doubt in my mind that there are state-subsidized “Solyndras” waiting to be discovered.

The Wall Street Journal took a step in this direction by noting in an editorial that a struggling lithium-ion battery maker subsidized by the Obama administration also received handouts from the State of Indiana. The editorial chides the administration for having “made a habit of investing your cash in their clunkers.” A series of investigations from WTHR-TV in Indianapolis has demonstrated that the administration of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels shares that same bad habit (see here).

The Journal editorial’s concluding lines correctly sum up the problem with government subsidies to businesses:

Better to leave commercial financing decisions to private investors and bankers who are likely to take more care with their own money. Politicians write the press releases first and worry about the taxpayer losses later.

As I’ve previously discussed, it was my experience as a state budget official in the Daniels administration that led me to coin the phrase “press release economics” to describe these subsidies. Indeed, WTHR’s investigations of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation showed that the Daniels administration was adept at taking credit for “creating jobs” that never materialized.

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