Many state and local governments aim to expand business and jobs by offering major tax breaks to companies such as Amazon. But as John Oliver detailed on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, these incentives are ineffective at job creation – and those millions (or, in some cases, billions) – of dollars could go toward more critical institutions like schools and hospitals.
For example, New York’s business incentive program, StartUpNY, offers zero property, corporate, business or income tax for a full decade. “I believe that sound you just heard is Donald Trump getting an erection,” Oliver joked. “Wait for it, wait for it – it’s gone again. See ya next year, little buddy!”
Governments are also eager to bring big companies like Amazon to their jurisdictions. When Amazon was planning to build a second headquarters, attempts to lure Bezos’ business ranged from hilarious to plain sad: New York City mayor Bill de Blasio lit the Empire State Building “Amazon Orange.” Stonecrest, Georgia offered to rename a part of itself “Amazon.” The most shocking attempt to attract Amazon comes from New Jersey, who is offering up to $7 billion in state tax breaks for the company to set up in Newark.
“To compete, I’m not surprised Omaha, Nebraska didn’t offer to let Jeff Bezos kill any three people he likes,” Oliver cracked. “‘Cause you know he would. Look at him. He wants it so bad. It’s the only thing he can’t have, and he wants it!”
In 2016, Williamstown, Kentucky created a full-size Noah’s Ark replica-museum, receiving a widely criticized $18 million in tax breaks. “I’m not saying that’s inherently a bad idea,” Oliver said. “I do kind of want to see this thing, especially as its website genuinely has a section devoted to the question, ‘What About All the Manure?’ The answer, apparently, is ‘slatted floors or multiple-level cages.'”
Such tax breaks also extend to the entertainment industry, with 31 states now offering incentive programs targeted at film and TV production. But the return on investment is often astoundingly weak: Louisiana discovered they only generated a financial return of roughly 22 cents for every state dollar invested in their film tax credit program, with Maryland only earning 10 cents and Connecticut at seven cents.
“That’s like putting a dollar into a vending machine and getting a single yellow Starburst in return,” Oliver joked. “At some point, what you’re getting out is not worth what you’re putting in.”