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Posts tagged tax credits

Big Money, Big Companies — But Whose Benefit?

IFP BACKGROUNDER

Official Report Exposes Continuing Issues with Iowa Research Activities Credit  

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160224-RAC-boxIowa’s most lucrative business tax credit program is the Research Activities Credit (RAC). Through the RAC, some big companies receive big dollars from the state of Iowa, some as credits — effectively, discounts — on their taxes. But some as well (186 in 2015) either owe no income tax or reduce it to zero with the RAC, and have tax credits left over. In those cases they can receive state checks as a “refund” — $42.1 million in state spending last year.

As the Iowa Fiscal Partnership has noted, Iowa’s RAC is far different from what was envisioned when it originally passed, in 1985. Designed to support start-up companies to do research, this program primarily benefits very large companies, with little scrutiny. More information has been available about the RAC since 2009, when state legislators ordered the Iowa Department of Revenue to provide an annual report by February 15 on both individual and corporate claims against income tax for the previous calendar year.[1]

As illustrated in Table 1 below, little of this tax credit is used to reduce taxes for its recipients. Rather, the credit is used mostly to provide subsidies, in state checks worth sometimes millions of dollars, to corporations that pay little or no income tax.

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The amount of the corporate claims under the RAC has ranged from about $45.2 million to $53.3 million over the six years covered by the full-year annual reports, from 2010 through 2015. The 2015 report showed 246 corporations claimed a total of $50.1 million from the RAC — covering both the regular RAC and the supplemental credit.

160224-RAC-Fig1The share of those claims provided as “refund” checks to corporations — meaning they had no corporate income tax in Iowa — has ranged from about two-thirds of the benefit to as much as 95 percent. After dipping below 70 percent in the previous two years, the share of research credits paid out as checks rose to 84 percent in 2015, with a cost to the treasury of $42.1 million. (Table 1.)

The number of companies claiming the credit has risen sharply — by 55 percent to 248 claims in each of the last two years compared to the 160 corporate claims in 2010. (Figure 1) Likewise, the share of claimants receiving checks has risen over that time from 133 to 186 — a 40 percent increase.

Another trend that has remained strong is that large claimants have taken $8 or $9 out of every $10 from the corporate credit. This is illustrated in Table 2 below. These are companies that have over $500,000 in corporate claims. Recalling that the credit represents 6.5 percent of the increase in Iowa research spending above an established base level (box, page 1) this effectively means a company with $500,000 in claims has Iowa research expenses of at least $7.7 million —not a small company. It is reasonable to ask whether the subsidy is necessary for a company already devoting such sizable resources to research.

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The annual reports by law must identify the largest corporate claimants, those with claims of more than $500,000. The largest claimants have looked similar at the top year to year, but the number of large corporate claimants has grown, from nine in 2010 to more than twice that — 20 — last year. Table 3 provides information from the six full-year annual reports disclosing big claimants and amounts claimed. A stronger law would disclose how much of each of those large claims was paid as a “refund,” or check, illustrating which companies received state assistance but did not pay Iowa income tax. It also would require corporations to report on their economic activities and investments in the state.

A Special Tax Credit Review Panel appointed by Governor Chet Culver in 2009 examined all Iowa tax credits in the wake of a scandal in the Film Tax Credit Program. That committee came back in January 2010 with a report making several recommendations, including a five-year sunset for all tax credits so that lawmakers would have to review them and affirmatively vote to continue them, and specific recommendations on the Research Activities Credit. Among those recommendations: eliminate refundability of the RAC for companies with gross receipts in excess of $20 million yearly, but permit a five-year carry-forward. “It seems unreasonable for the State to be providing successful, larger corporations refund checks for amounts of the Research Activities Tax Credit over its tax due to the State.”[2]

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These large claimants are highly profitable companies. The biggest recipient of the Iowa credit in 2015, Rockwell Collins, reported $686 million in profits in fiscal 2015.[3] Deere & Co., had $7.5 million in research costs offset —yet reported over $1.9 billion in 2015 profits.[4] DuPont reported almost $2 billion in profits in 2015, but claimed $7.5 million from Iowa taxpayers for research.[5] As Table 3 indicates, Rockwell Collins and Deere have both benefited from more than $67 million in RAC claims over the last six years, and Dupont from more than $45 million. These figures raise serious questions about the need for state help to cover what may be considered normal expenses. After all, what keeps these companies competitive in their fields is their research and development work. Where there might be a benefit to company stockholders, there is no demonstration to Iowa taxpayers about a return on their investment in these companies’ operations.

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State fiscal experts predict will be a growing subsidy outside the budget process (Figure 2). The Department of Revenue projects the cost of this program to rise from about $54.9 million for individual and corporate claims in FY2013 to $64.4 million this year and more than $75 million by FY2020.[6]


[1] All annual reports filed as a result of the 2009 law are on the Department of  website, at https://tax.iowa.gov/report/Reports?combine=Research Activities. Reports for calendar year 2010 and after offer full-year information; the 2009 report was for a partial year. Our tables summarize the corporate claims in those full-year reports.
[2] State of Iowa Tax Credit Review Report, Jan. 8, 2010, p. 8, http://iowapolicyproject.org/2010docs/1001-TaxCreditReview.pdf
[3] Rockwell Collins Annual Report 2015, http://s1.q4cdn.com/532426485/files/doc_financials/annual/2015/COL-ANNUAL-REPORT-FINAL.pdf
[4] Deere & Co. news release, https://s2.q4cdn.com/329009547/files/doc_financials/quarterly_earnings/2015/Q4-2015/Q4_2015_Media-Release-and-Financials.pdf
[5] DuPont news release http://investors.dupont.com/investor-relations/investor-news/investor-news-details/2016/DuPont-Reports-4Q-and-Full-Year-Operating-EPS-of-027-and-277/default.aspx
[6] Iowa Department of Revenue,Tax Credits Contingent Liabilities Report, December 2015, https://tax.iowa.gov/sites/files/idr/Contingent Liabilities Report 1215.pdf; Table 9. Note: These figures are fiscal-year costs and projections in reports provided by the Department for use by the Revenue Estimating Conference, as opposed to the calendar year reports provided by the Department as required by the Research Activities Credit disclosure law passed in 2009. They also include individual claims as well as corporate claims, while the Tables 1-3 in this report only show corporate claims. (Corporate claims have represented 90 percent of the amount of all claims in the six years covered by the full-year RAC reports under the 2009 disclosure law.)

News Release (Feb. 15, 2016)
Special Tax Credit Review Panel Report (Jan. 8, 2010)

Iowa Fiscal Partnership

The Iowa Fiscal Partnership (IFP) is a joint budget and tax policy initiative of two nonpartisan, Iowa-based organizations, the Iowa Policy Project in Iowa City and the Child & Family Policy Center in Des Moines. IFP is part of the State Priorities Partnership, a network of nonpartisan organizations in 41 states and the District of Columbia that share a commitment to rigorous policy analysis, responsible budget and tax policies, and a particular focus on the needs of low- and moderate-income families. IFP research is supported by the Stoneman Family Foundation and by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Policy conclusions are the responsibility of the Iowa Policy Project and the Child & Family Policy Center and not necessarily the view of either the Stoneman Family Foundation or the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Iowa Fiscal Partnership reports are available to the public at http://www.iowafiscal.org.

Start with ‘zero’ on credits

Posted March 11th, 2015 to Blog

It was​ fascinating Tuesday to see Iowa lawmakers talking about zero-based budgeting — starting every budget from scratch — when they have refused to do the same with tax credits.

Spending on tax credits — including millions to companies that don’t pay any state income tax — just keeps going on and on.

And on.

And on.

Companies basically get to appropriate state money to themselves. Quite a deal if you can get it.

If the state were to sunset business tax credits, as recommended in 2010 by a special governor-appointed Tax Credit Review Panel, lawmakers could review each one and decide which are actually producing a public benefit, whether any of them are money well spent. If so, they could renew the credit. If not, we could put our resources where they make more sense for all Iowans.

Maybe a part-time legislature could start with a zero base on tax credits before we talk about it for an entire state budget.

Owen-2013-57Posted by Mike Owen, executive director of the Iowa Policy Project

Leveling the playing field

Posted December 11th, 2014 to Blog

Small business owners get it: They follow the rules, but preferential treatment for giant companies puts them at a disadvantage.

Case in point: Lora Fraracci, who had an excellent guest opinion in today’s Cedar Rapids Gazette about practices big companies use to avoid paying U.S. taxes. The problem is not exclusively an issue with the lax U.S. tax code. It is a big problem at the state level as well.

Ms. Fraracci runs a residential and commercial cleaning business. As she noted:

“As a small-business owner in Des Moines, I play by the rules and pay my taxes to support our American economy. I create jobs that will continue to support our local economy. When the playing field is so uneven it makes it hard to realize this dream.”

The issue has been receiving some national attention, but many may not realize the prevalence of this problem and its extension to state taxes. While Ms. Fraracci and other small businesses, or Iowa focused businesses, follow the rules, large companies they may serve can find a way to either (1) avoid the rules, or (2) block stronger rules.

The Iowa Fiscal Partnership has written about these issues for some time, and the reports are on our website.

The biggest Iowa breaks come in two ways: tax loopholes and tax credits.

Tax loopholes have been estimated to cost the state between $60 million and $100 million a year. Loosely written law is an invitation to big companies’ lawyers and accountants to find ways to lower their firms’ taxes. Multistate firms can shift profits to tax-haven states and avoid taxes they otherwise would be paying in Iowa. That creates the uneven playing field Ms. Fraracci sees.

Iowa could fix this by adopting something called “combined reporting,” which the business lobby has fought tooth and nail when proposed in the past by Governors Tom Vilsack and Chet Culver. Many states — including almost all our neighbors (Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas and Nebraska) — already do this. See our 2007 report, which remains relevant because Iowa has refused to act.

Tax credits are particularly costly, rarely reviewed with any sense that they will be reformed. This is illustrated best with the Research Activities Credit, which provides a refundable credit to big companies to do something they are likely to anyway: research to keep their businesses relevant and competitive.

In 2013, that credit cost $53 million, with $36 million of that going to companies that paid no state income tax in Iowa. The default position must be that this is wasted money, because it is never reviewed in the regular budget process the way other spending is examined every year — on schools, law enforcement, worker protection and environmental quality. In Iowa, spending on tax credits is spending on autopilot.

Read here about Iowa’s accountability gap on tax-credit spending.

Looking ahead, as a new legislative session approaches and we hear repeatedly that things are tight, keep these points in mind to better understand the real fiscal picture facing Iowa. The more small-business owners understand this, the more likely pressure can build for real reform.

Owen-2013-57  Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director, Iowa Policy Project


Steps forward in ’14 — more ahead?

IFP News: Statement on 2014 Legislative Session

Iowa families took a couple of important steps forward in the 2014 legislative session, but those steps paled in comparison to lawmakers’ refusal to address long-term funding challenges for critical services.

PDF (2 pages)

IOWA CITY, Iowa (May 7, 2014) — The Iowa Fiscal Partnership released the following statement today about the 2014 session of the Iowa Legislature:

Iowa families took a couple of important steps forward during the just-completed legislative session, while more — and more significant — advancements will have to wait as the General Assembly and Governor continue to focus excessive attention on giveaways to business.

Steps forward paled in comparison to lawmakers’ refusal to address long-term funding challenges for critical services including K-12 and early childhood education, and Child Care Assistance, among others.

And, inexplicably, lawmakers left Iowa’s minimum wage at a paltry $7.25 — stagnant now for over six years. Failure to improve the livelihoods of Iowa’s low-wage workers puts greater demands on families because public supports are not sufficiently funded. Eligibility for Child Care Assistance in particular has been held too low to help many low-income working families — one of the lowest eligibility ceilings in the country — and lawmakers passed up an opportunity to improve that.

One bright note from the session was that lawmakers approved increased eligibility for child care assistance to working parents who also go to school part time. They also passed a small improvement in the child and dependent care credit. Iowa Fiscal Partnership research has shown child care is expensive for low-income families, and is a major barrier for parents seeking to improve their education.

Another bright spot is that the state will provide 4 percent increases to Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa to meet a commitment by the Board of Regents to freeze tuition for a second straight year. Likewise, community colleges received a 4.1 percent funding boost to restrain tuition. It is important to note, however, that many more years of increased funding will be needed to reverse the long-term trends that have turned tuition into the majority source of support for the Regents institutions and the community colleges. This causes rising debt for families, reduces access to higher education and lessens Iowa’s commitment to opportunity for all.

On the other end of the education spectrum — 4-year-old preschool — only the Senate passed legislation to help eliminate waiting lists and expand access to more families, so it will be at least next year before that can be considered.

Funding is critical to improvements in many areas. For the environment, the Resource Enhancement and Protection Act (REAP) has been around for a quarter century but only once funded at its authorized $20 million. If the Governor signs improvements passed by the Legislature, conservation and environmental advocates will see it at $25 million.

No noteworthy gains were made or seriously attempted to reform corporate tax credits and other tax breaks that have become a significant and chronic drain on Iowa’s treasury with little apparent return.

While poorly targeted “incentives” to business remain a serious problem for Iowa, one limited credit for solar power improvements was expanded and should be able to stand the kind of return-on-investment review that needs to be applied to all business tax credits.

It remains a contradiction that lawmakers can give away tens of millions of dollars to profitable businesses that pay no state income tax — without a vote and without concern about the impact on the budget — yet leave town claiming they cannot set school aid as required by law because they don’t know how much money will be coming in. If education is a priority, the money can be found from the pool now being given away before it hits the treasury.

The Iowa Fiscal Partnership is a joint public policy analysis initiative of two nonpartisan, nonprofit Iowa organizations, IPP in Iowa City and the Child & Family Policy Center in Des Moines. Reports are available at www.iowafiscal.org.

Watch tax spending more closely

Posted February 4th, 2014 to Blog

Iowa is behind — not that we didn’t already know that.

A new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) examines several aspects of what states do in budget planning. Particularly noteworthy in the report for Iowa is its poor attention to the impact of tax expenditures — spending through the tax code. When we have a tax break on the books, such as a credit or exemption, it has an impact on the budget bottom line the same as if the lost revenues were spent on the other side of the ledger.

Most of this spending, as the Iowa Fiscal Partnership has shown over the years, is on autopilot. These breaks exist year to year, never requiring renewal — unlike the kind of spending we do through direct appropriations, where critical services are subjected to annual scrutiny to exist or not for another year.

Here’s why it matters, according to the executive summary of the CBPP report:

When recessions occur, states must scrutinize all forms of spending.  An important tool for this is oversight of various tax expenditures (tax credits, deductions, and exemptions that reduce state revenue), which in many ways function as spending through the tax code. This will enable states to make sound choices between the most essential tax expenditures and those the state can forgo. For example, states can regularly publish tax expenditure reports that list each tax break and its cost. And states can enact sunset provisions so that tax breaks expire in a specified number of years unless policymakers choose to extend them.

The problem in Iowa is not a lack of analysis or data. The Iowa Department of Revenue (DOR) has produced solid tax expenditure studies in 2000, 2005 and 2010. They are found here on the DOR website. And there is considerable information outside those formal studies that illustrate overall costs — primarily a so-called “tax credit contingent liabilities report” offered three-to-four times a year by DOR for use by the Revenue Estimating Conference. Furthermore, a number of important tax expenditures have been the subject of in-depth reports to the legislative committee charged with reviewing tax credits.

So in what way is Iowa behind the curve? The CBPP report lists 10 ways states can better budget for the future, including one on the tax-expenditure oversight issue:

Oversight of tax expenditures:  expiration dates for tax expenditures after a set number of years to subject them to regular scrutiny of their cost and effectiveness, in addition to tax expenditure reports that list the costs of individual tax breaks.

Such expiration dates are called “sunsets.” A special Tax Credit Review Panel appointed by then-Governor Culver in the wake of the 2009 film-credit scandal produced a set of strong recommendations for reform, among them a five-year sunset on all credits. This proposal was ignored.

Furthermore, a review of tax credits on a five-year rotation set up by lawmakers in response to that panel’s recommendations has produced no apparent policy change; this perhaps is not surprising since the committee that reviews the credits has not issued findings that the credits are meeting the intent of policy, or producing a return on the taxpayers’ investment.

The bottom line is this: Unless tax expenditures sunset, there is little incentive for legislative committees to take evaluations seriously.

Mike OwenPosted by Mike Owen, Executive Director


Hyperbole Alert: The drumbeat to cut corporate taxes in Iowa

Posted July 24th, 2013 to Blog
Mike Owen

Mike Owen

TWELVE PERCENT!

The figure practically screams at you, even when it’s not in all caps, when the conversation comes to corporate tax rates in Iowa.

Here’s the thing: It’s not a real number. Not really.

That is what is known as Iowa’s “top marginal rate” on corporate income tax. And it’s not a real number because it simply does not — cannot — reflect what a business pays on all its profits. Yet that is the implication when people (especially politicians) or corporations complain about it.

A top Iowa columnist, Todd Dorman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, this week discussed the political battles over Iowa’s latest gigantic subsidies to Egyptian fertilizer company Orascom. In his piece he expressed a note of concern about the hyperbole in those battles. Then, he turned the discussion to Governor Branstad’s desire for cuts in corporate income taxes.

It is in that discussion where the hyperbole typically has been the strongest in Iowa. We are often told — as Dorman noted — that Iowa’s top corporate income tax rate is the nation’s highest. Note the emphasis added on “top.” More on that in a moment. Dorman also noted, accurately, that Iowa “has four brackets and a tangle of special interest credits.”

Because of the latter, any serious concern for our corporate friends should evaporate. Because they’re really being taken care of quite nicely, thank you, by their friends in the General Assembly and the Governor’s Office.

Now, about that “top rate.” It applies only to Iowa-taxable corporate profits above $250,000. Iowa doesn’t tax any profits from sales outside the state, so the rate doesn’t apply at all there, which for many businesses is a significant share of profits. For all taxable profits below $250,000, rates are lower — 6 percent on the first $25,000, 8 percent on the next $75,000 and 10 percent on the next $150,000.

Before these rates kick in, the business gets to deduct half its federal income tax from taxable income, and may have other deductions or ways to shelter income from state tax.

Then, after the rates are computed and the taxes determined, the tax credits enter the picture — and state revenues exit. The state just expanded the potential for those credits by $50 million, raising the cap on a select group of credits. In the case of the Research Activities Credit, these credits not only erase all tax liability, but offer state checks for the remaining amount of the credit. Through that program in 2012, Iowa paid out almost $33 million to 130 firms that paid no income tax, because those companies had more credits than tax liability.

And you can bet the corporate execs and their accountants fully understand all these nooks and crannies in our tax code. But if you want to give them a free million or so, they’ll take it. They are smart folks, and they have proven themselves to be more skilled negotiators than Iowa’s economic development moguls.

Want to talk reform? Then recognize the real problems — that we receive less in corporate tax than we used to, and that a lot of corporate tax is not collected because of the swiss-cheese nature of our tax code. That gives us all something to talk about.

Just be ready for the hyperbole from those who don’t want to change that part of our system.

Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director


For more information about Iowa business taxes, see these Iowa Fiscal Partnership reports:
— “Reducing Iowa Commercial Property Taxes,” by Heather Milway and Peter Fisher, April 24, 2013.
— “Amid Plans to Relax Limits, Business Tax Credits Grow,” by Heather Gibney, April 16, 2013.
— “Corporate Taxes and State Economic Growth,” by Peter Fisher, revised April 2013.
— “A $40 Million Budget Hole: Persistent and Growing,” IFP backgrounder, February 25, 2013.
— “Tax Credit Reform Glass Half-Full? Maybe Some Moisture,” IFP backgrounder, revised March 23, 2010.
— “Single Factor to Consider,” IFP backgrounder, April 2, 2008.


Amid Plans to Relax Limits, Business Tax Credits Grow

Posted April 16th, 2013 to Budget, Corporate Taxes, Taxes

Accountability Gap: Little Evidence Required to Demonstrate Effectiveness
IFP Backgrounder By Heather Gibney, Iowa Policy Project

Calls for reform of business tax credits followed Iowa’s scandal in the management of subsidies to the film industry.1 Little reform resulted. Now, just three years later, those calls for new limits have given way to Governor Branstad’s proposals to relax limits on spending through the tax code on business subsidies, mostly outside the budget process, and outside the view of Iowans. Tax credits are a significant part of the state’s subsidies to businesses, reflecting considerable political pressure to support tax credits as part of the normal state course of supporting business. The Governor’s recent deal to Egyptian fertilizer company Orascom is a prominent example, as over $100 million in tax credits2 were part of the $200 million in subsidies offered — illustrating, if nothing else, that whatever restrictions exist on the use and awarding of tax credits, they are not hindering their use.

Iowa is projected to spend $224 million on an array of business tax credits this fiscal year. Tax incentives and direct financial assistance are intended to support business growth by encouraging economic development, investments in new facilities, research, and job creation — new activity that would not have otherwise occurred. Whether these incentives accomplish those goals or are cost-effective remains largely unknown. Yet they continue to grow. Table 1 shows how much the state has spent on the 20 business tax credits for the past three fiscal years, and the projected spending for this year and next.

Table1-credits2010-14While General Fund revenue has increased since the end of the recession, credits have grown more quickly. Credits more than doubled from FY2005 to FY2012 while General Fund revenue increased by 28 percent during that same period. As a result, total business tax credits increased as a percent of General Fund revenue — from 2.1 percent in FY2005 to a projected 3.44 percent by the end of FY2013.3 (Figure 1.) Fig 1 tax credits grow as share of revenueThe continued growth of Iowa’s business tax expenditures is largely the result of new or expanded credits, increased spending without accountability, sizable uncapped credits, limited review of credits, and no required authorization by the General Assembly.

Iowa has two categories of tax credits: automatic and awarded. Awarded credits require an application and a specific award for a taxpayer to claim the credit. The total amount of awarded credits may also be capped or uncapped. (Table 2) Capped credits must not exceed a certain dollar amount in any year. Automatic credits may be claimed by any eligible taxpayer, with no specified limit on the amount of claims.4

Several Iowa Business Tax Credits Have No Cap on Cost, and Happen Automatically

Business credits don’t require annual authorization or scrutiny by the General Assembly to evaluate their specific value or public purpose once they have been established, as do appropriations for program expenditures or state grants.5 This can lead to excessive or unexpected spending through the tax code when credits are used to a far greater extent and for different purposes than originally intended. Even when the credits meet the criteria originally set, they may go to businesses that would have grown and developed without them. 6

In FY2012 businesses claimed $136.7 million in uncapped credits and $70.8 million in capped credits — a considerable increase from the $70.9 million in uncapped credits and $33.5 million in capped credits spent in FY2005. Governor Branstad is proposing an increase in the global credit cap for the FY2014 budget. Six economic development credits are under the global cap, currently $120 million, which the Governor wants to raise to $185 million — reversing one of the few reforms actually passed in 2010.7 These credits are all awarded by the IEDA.8

The six credits are:
• Enterprise Zone Program
• High Quality Jobs Program
• Redevelopment Tax Credit
• Venture Capital Tax Credit-Innovation Fund
• Venture Capital Tax Credit-Qualified Business or Community-Based Seed Capital Fund
• Assistive Device Tax Credit

The Governor’s proposal estimates this change would reduce General Fund Revenue by $1 million in FY2014 and $3.9 million in FY2015, with the majority of the potential $65 million annual impact on the General Fund to occur in fiscal years after FY2015.9 The Governor is also recommending raising the cap on the Endow Iowa Tax Credit from $3.5 million to $4 million. This change is estimated to reduce General Fund revenue by $200,000 in FY2014 and $400,000 in FY2015.

In addition to businesses credits, some business subsidies are appropriated by the Legislature. When proposed, this kind of financial assistance for a specific program is part of the yearly appropriations process — and not included as part of capped or uncapped credits. For FY2014, the Governor proposes a $19 million cash incentive for the High Quality Jobs Program that would be allocated from the General Fund. 10

Little Progress Has Been Made Reforming Credits

A serious effort was made in 2010 to review all of Iowa’s tax credit programs and identify needed reforms. Then-Governor Chet Culver appointed a seven-member Tax Credit Review Panel, which analyzed the major provisions of each tax credit and made recommendations based on assessments of the costs and benefits, oversight and responsibility, and performance.11

The first recommendation of the panel was to provide greater transparency of tax credits by having the Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) make available the types and amounts of tax credit claims that it includes in its Tax Receipts calculation. This would allow state policy makers and the public to clearly see the impact of tax credits on the General Fund budget. Currently, the REC calculates revenues based on the information in the Iowa Department of Revenues Contingent Liabilities Report, but it does not list the types and amounts of each tax credit in its reports.

The second recommendation was to eliminate the transferability provisions of all tax credits — a provision that still remains for six credits. Recipients of certain credits whose tax liability is less than the credit can sell the credit at a discount to Iowans who do owe income taxes. This can lead to an ineffective tax credit program as it complicates the projection of revenues and the tracking of credits, and creates uncertainty about when the credits will be claimed because the entity that purchased the credit may utilize a different fiscal year than the entity awarded the credit.12 When a credit is sold, it is difficult to follow who actually benefits — the buyer may not be in the same industry as the seller, and the credit can wind up subsidizing activity that is completely unrelated to the original target and may contradict other public policy goals.13

The panel’s third recommendation was to develop an effective return on investment calculation for each tax credit. Thus far, however, only one has been fully developed — for the state’s High Quality Jobs Program.14 The process of calculating a return on investment for each tax credit is still incomplete and inconsistent. Without an effective return on investment calculation, the state cannot know how effective tax credits have been and what changes should be made.

As part of the state establishing more accountability to the taxpayers, the panel recommended a five-year sunset on all tax credits. This provision was not imposed on any credit; however, six tax credits are scheduled for repeal in the next eight years. Establishing a five-year sunset would require policy makers to affirm the value of a credit, encouraging them to evaluate each tax credit and determine whether the original economic development purpose remains relevant.

To enable the state to manage its General Fund budget more effectively, the panel recommended capping all credits. Currently, seven business tax credits have no individual cap and are not included under the global cap; this includes two of the largest credits, the Research Activities Credit and the Iowa Industrial New Job Training Program.

The panel recommended elimination of six business tax credits as not being fully used and no longer necessary because of changing economic conditions — four have been repealed. Two targeted credits that remain include the Assistive Device and Qualified Business or Community-Based Seed Capital Fund.

Overall, few of the panel’s recommendations were enacted. Subsequent attempts to curb tax expenditures have met strong opposition.

Tax Expenditure Committee

In response to concerns raised by the review panel, the Legislative Tax Expenditure Committee was created in 2010 under Senate File 2380 to provide greater oversight of tax expenditures.15 This committee is composed of 10 members of the General Assembly (five members from each chamber) appointed by the Legislative Council. The purpose of the committee is to evaluate tax credits for their original purpose and to conduct a review of all credits over a five-year period — assessing their equity, simplicity, competitiveness, public purpose, and adequacy. They also are tasked with estimating the cost of each tax expenditure every fiscal year as well as the total cost of all tax expenditures.16

To date, the committee has reviewed the following business credits: High Quality Jobs, Research Activities, and Targeted Jobs from Withholding, as well as reviewing the Fund of Funds. The committee has met twice — in the Fall of 2011 and the Fall of 2012, but has not made major recommendations for changes to any tax credits that it has examined. The Iowa Department of Revenue has prepared a number of reports on various tax expenditure programs; those have provided more in-depth information about their use.

Many of Iowa’s business tax credits are designed to promote specific businesses or benefit specific firms, which run counter to a number of fundamental tax principles related to simplicity, fairness and economic efficiency. Even conservative organizations such as the Tax Foundation argue against providing special tax exemptions and credits for specific economic activities, considering them distortions to a free market with the potential to unfairly advantage one business to the detriment of another. Further, large increases in credits for businesses results in decreased tax liability, often for the benefit of a few firms and individuals who already are economically prosperous — and this decrease in General Fund revenue available to fund education, human services, health care, workforce development, environmental protection, and other economic development programs serving the larger public. Many of the state’s vital services are still not funded at pre-recession levels and proposed increases are less than what can be expected in a time of recovery. Yet business credits continue to increase faster than revenue.

The connection of tax expenditures to debates about budget choices is something the General Assembly and Governor must acknowledge. Tax expenditures have the same overall impact on state budget choices as do direct appropriations. Before adding new tax expenditures or raising the caps on those that exist, Iowa lawmakers would do well to return to the findings of the most comprehensive review in the last decade, that of the Tax Credit Review Panel, and address these issues anew.

[1] “Tax Credit Reform Glass Half-Full? Maybe Some Moisture,” Iowa Fiscal Partnership, March 23, 2010. http://www.iowafiscal.org/2010docs/100317-IFP-analysis.pdf
[2] “Branstad, Reynolds Celebrate Largest Capital Investment in Iowa History,” Office of the Governor, September 5, 2012.
http://www.iowaeconomicdevelopment.com/NewsDetails/5496.
[3] Author’s analysis of tax credit figures from 2005-2015 Contingent Liabilities Report, Iowa Department of Revenue.
http://www.iowa.gov/tax/taxlaw/0313RECReport.pdf.
[4] Tax Credit Contingent Liabilities Report, Iowa Department of Revenue, March 22, 2013.
http://www.iowa.gov/tax/taxlaw/0313RECReport.pdf.
[5] “Seduction: The Disaster Story of Iowa’s Film Tax Credit,” Iowa Fiscal Partnership, October 8, 2009.
http://www.iowapolicyproject.org/2009docs/091008-ifp-film.pdf.
[6] Charles Bruner, Peter S. Fisher, “Business Tax Credits and Expenditures 101: A Primer on the Economics of State Subsidies to Promote Iowa Economic Development,” Iowa Fiscal Partnership, February 1, 2010.
http://www.iowafiscal.org/100204-taxcredits101.html.
[7] Author’s analysis of tax credit figures from 2005-2015 Contingent Liabilities Report, Iowa Department of Revenue.
http://www.iowa.gov/tax/taxlaw/0313RECReport.pdf.
[8] Tax Credit Contingent Liabilities Report, Iowa Department of Revenue, March 22, 2013
http://www.iowa.gov/tax/taxlaw/0313RECReport.pdf.
[9] “Preliminary Summary of the Governor’s FY2014 Budget Recommendations,” LSA, Fiscal Division.
https://www.legis.iowa.gov/DOCS/lsaReports/BudgetAnalysis/Archives/FY%202014%20Prelim.pdf.
[10] “Summary of the FY2014 Budget and Governor’s Recommendations,” LSA Fiscal Division.
https://www.legis.iowa.gov/DOCS/lsaReports/BudgetAnalysis/Archives/FY%202014.pdf.
[11] State of Iowa Tax Credit Review Report, Department of Management, January 8, 2010.
http://www.dom.state.ia.us/tax_credit_review/files/TaxCreditStudyReviewReportFINAL1_8_2010.pdf.
[12] State of Iowa Tax Credit Review Report, Department of Management, January 8, 2010.
http://www.dom.state.ia.us/tax_credit_review/files/TaxCreditStudyReviewReportFINAL1_8_2010.pdf.
[13] Jennifer Weiner, “State Business Tax Incentives: Examining Evidence of their Effectiveness,” New England Public Policy Center, December 2009.
http://www.bos.frb.org/economic/neppc/dp/2009/neppcdp0903.pdf.
[14] Lee Rood, “Have State Tax Credits worked for Iowa?” Des Moines Register, November 16, 2011.
http://www.public.iastate.edu/~nscentral/mr/11/1118/monitor.html.
[15] Notes on Bills and Amendments: Tax Credit Reductions and Review, Senate File 2380, LSA, March 17, 2010.
https://www.legis.iowa.gov/DOCS/LSA/IntComHand/2012/IHMJD000.PDF.
[16] Background on Senate File 2380, Legislative Tax Expenditure Committee, LSA, Fiscal Division.
https://www.legis.iowa.gov/DOCS/LSA/IntComHand/2012/IHMJD000.PDF.

 

Heather GibneyHeather Gibney is a research associate for the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project, where she focuses on state fiscal issues and their effect on working families. She received her master’s degree in Public Policy from the University of Northern Iowa and undergraduate degrees in Psychology and Criminal Justice from the University of Iowa and Mount Mercy University.

The Iowa Fiscal Partnership is a joint budget and tax policy initiative of two nonpartisan, Iowa-based organizations, the Iowa Policy Project in Iowa City and the Child & Family Policy Center in Des Moines. Find IFP on the web at www.iowafiscal.org.

The limits of transparency

Posted April 3rd, 2013 to Blog
Peter Fisher

Peter Fisher

You can’t fix problems you can’t find. That’s why transparency is so important in public policy and especially spending through the tax code.

You would never find some of this information just going to the Iowa Economic Development Authority website — you have to know where to look. And even then, there are limitations on what is available from the state for its citizens to see.

The Iowa Policy Project and Iowa Fiscal Partnership have long argued for greater transparency with regard to the state’s expenditures on economic development through the tax code. We are happy to see a new report from the Iowa Public Interest Research Group that brings attention to this issue, properly including business tax credits and other tax expenditures among the categories of state spending that citizens have a right to know about.

But it’s very important to look at the deficiencies that remain in Iowa. In our view, those problems tell far more about the state’s interest in transparency than the items that are given a favorable rating by PIRG.

While the PIRG report gives Iowa credit for having a website that allows a citizen to find economic development subsidies awarded by company name (including the amount, the jobs promised, the jobs created, and the location), two problems in particular should be addressed in the future.

  • First, only tax credits that must be awarded are listed; similar information should be available for all economic development tax credits, including those that are automatic.
  • Second, the database of subsidies is buried deep in the website of the Iowa Economic Development Authority (for those interested it is here: http://www.iowaeconomicdevelopment.com/annualrpt/?cmd=default&rptyear=2011). It’s hard for the public to find. A link to this database should be posted on the state’s DataShare website, where only aggregate information on tax credits is available.

The Legislature did pass a notable transparency improvement in 2009 that requires the state to identify by name the recipients of Research Activities Credits in excess of $500,000. The bill failed, however, to require identification of how much of a company’s credit was in the form of a refund check. Taxpayers have a right to know how much of their tax dollars are going to subsidize corporations that are paying no state income tax.

It should be clear by now that the disclosure of company-specific subsidy information does no harm to the company or to the state’s economic development efforts; there is no excuse not to make all of our business tax subsidies transparent.

Posted by Peter S. Fisher, Research Director


IFP News: Iowa Paid $33 Million in Research Checks in 2012

Posted February 15th, 2013 to Budget, Corporate Taxes, Tax Credits, Taxes

Rockwell Collins, Deere & Dupont Again Lead RAC Beneficiaries

Download this news release — 2-page PDF and Department of Revenue report 3-page PDF

IOWA CITY, Iowa (Feb. 15, 2013) — The largest recipients of a state research credit shared $28.5 million in subsidy checks as some or all paid no income tax in 2012, according to a new report from the Iowa Department of Revenue.

The report released Friday shows that overall, 178 corporations claimed a total of $46.1 million from the Research Activities Credit (RAC) in 2012, including both the regular RAC and a separate supplemental credit, but nine corporations claimed over 90 percent of those funds.

Of those credits, $32.5 million was paid to 130 claimants as “refunds,” the amount paid as checks because the claimants had more credits than income tax liability. Most of those “refunds” went to some or all of the nine largest beneficiaries of the credit.

“This report is the latest evidence of the need for reform of this poorly named ‘tax credit,’” said Charles Bruner, executive director of the Child & Family Policy Center. “The credit is used less to reduce taxes than to provide straight subsidies to big companies through the tax code, outside the budget process.

“It was never designed or promoted for huge subsidies for highly profitable businesses. These state reports are showing not only that the program is very expensive, but that most of the money — over 70 percent in 2012 — is paid out as checks to companies that already have wiped away all their income tax liability.”

A special tax-credit review panel appointed in 2009 by then-Governor Chet Culver urged lawmakers to eliminate the refundability of the credit for large companies, capping its cost and setting a five-year sunset that would require fresh approval to continue the credit. None of these proposals have been followed.

This latest state report shows that eliminating refundability in FY2012 would have cut the cost of corporate RAC credits from $46.1 million to $13.5 million.

“The difference would be enough to fund about 1 percent of allowable growth for K-12 schools in Iowa,” noted David Osterberg, executive director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project.

The state, which spent $21.2 million on the credit in FY2010, is projected to spend $72.2 million on it in FY2017 if there are no changes.

Bruner noted that the RAC began as a way to support start-up companies to do research in Iowa, but that very large, profitable multinational companies dominate its use.

The biggest claimants in 2012, the same top three recipients as in the previous two years, were:
• Rockwell Collins Inc. and subsidiaries, $13.8 million;
• Deere and Co., $11.9 million; and
• Dupont, $8.5 million.

table

As a group, the largest claimants — those with over $500,000 in claims — received credits of $42.1 million — $28.5 million of that in checks considered “refunds,” not as a return for an overpayment of taxes, but for tax credit value beyond their tax liability. The report further disclosed that 91 percent of the credits were claimed by only 5 percent of the corporations (nine).

This is the fourth annual report from the Department of Revenue as a result of a 2009 law requiring disclosure of the overall amount of individual and corporate RAC claims and refunds, and individual company claim amounts in excess of $500,000 for a year. While the law requires reporting of claims for large beneficiaries, it does not require that the amount of “refunds” be individually disclosed.

“The disclosure we have now is an improvement, but remains limited,” Bruner said, noting a stronger law would specify how much of individual corporate claims are paid out as checks, as opposed to credits that remove tax liability.

“Even with revenues coming in strong, the Research Activities Credit is expensive. What disclosure we have, and the limits on that disclosure, show that the RAC is a poster child for the need for accountability on the state’s corporate subsidies,” Bruner said.

Osterberg agreed.

“There simply can be no question that if we are going to spend over $40 million on these subsidies, they should be transparent in the budget process. These resources could be going toward education or water-quality enforcement,” Osterberg said.

“Why do we subsidize something that we know will happen anyway? Rockwell Collins, Deere and DuPont all need to do research to thrive; they will do what research is necessary for their business — they don’t need their taxes cut to persuade them of the need. But even if we think taxes should be reduced to encourage research, why do we send these companies a check on top of eliminating their taxes?

“Perhaps the biggest question is this: Why isn’t the Legislature asking more about it, and demanding answers on behalf of their constituents?”

Besides the top three claimants, John Deere Construction had $3.4 million in claims, Monsanto $1.7 million, with four other companies — Vermeer, CNH America, Kemin Industries and Skyworks — above $500,000.

In addition, the report showed 1,144 individuals claimed a total of $4.5 million from the RAC, with $1.7 million of that paid as refunds to 307 claimants. Individual claimants are not identified in the report.

The Iowa Fiscal Partnership is a joint public policy analysis initiative of two nonpartisan, nonprofit Iowa-based organizations, the Iowa Policy Project in Iowa City and the Child & Family Policy Center in Des Moines. Reports are at www.iowafiscal.org.

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Keys to Fairly Assess the Effective Return on Investment from Public Business Subsidies

IFP BACKGROUNDER

Basic RGB

 

The following are key factors to assessing the return on investment of public economic development programs, tax credits and expenditures.

Most importantly, it is critical to establish a credible way to estimate the degree to which any state economic development program, tax credit, or expenditure actually produced the economic activity and the degree to which the activity would have occurred anyway.This must go beyond beneficiaries’ claims about the value of the business subsidy, to hard evidence that a subsidy or set of so-called “incentives” tipped the balance to assure at least a portion of the investment. After this determination, a methodology for calculating public ROIs must address these key issues:

  • Calculate public investments in terms of public returns, not increased overall economic activity. Public returns involve increased revenue to the state (in taxes and fees) as a result of the increased business activity, and are the way to measure public (tax dollar) investments for their returns.
  • Establish a reasonable time frame for making these estimates, with returns in future years appropriately discounted. A public investment, like a private one, needs to produce returns over a reasonable time period, and future returns should be appropriately discounted.
  • Compare the return on investment in economic development expenditures with the potential gains from alternative uses of the funds. A proper analysis would account for the lost opportunities that would come from making those investments elsewhere.
  • Estimate the impact of the investment on the direct level of economic activity that is projected to occur, including any potential for displacing existing economic activity. The public interest is in net new economic activity, not displacement of one activity with another, which also can provide unfair advantages to new over existing businesses. Displacement occurs when a subsidy simply enables one business to capture an existing firm’s share of a state market that is not expanding.
  • Incorporate additional public costs, as well as benefits, from the economic activity. There may be additional public sector costs that have to be factored in, particularly for additional demands on public services and business-related infrastructure needs or workforce expansions when new economic activity draws people (and service users) to Iowa from outside the state.
  • Only count any return once, even if multiple, independent investments were made to produce it. When multiple economic development subsidies are used to produce increased economic activity, the public return from that activity needs to be apportioned among those multiple subsidy programs, so it is not counted multiple times.
  • Recognize that ROI is only one factor to consider in determining public purpose and benefit.  Some investments can produce economic gain, but at a public cost (environmental degradation or public health and safety). Others can produce public benefits in those areas.  Although these do not have a monetary value, they are important considerations in making public investments and need to be recognized in ROI analyses.
  • Audit for impact and accuracy. Estimates and claims are only estimates and claims; there needs to be monitoring for actual impact, use, and achievement of public goals.
This is a summary of an Iowa Fiscal Partnership Policy Brief, “Bang for the Buck: Calculating the State’s Return on Investments in Economic Development,” by Charles Bruner and Peter S. Fisher (January 27, 2010). www.iowafiscal.org