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Corporate subsidies: A list

Good Jobs First taps Pa. collectors

Good Jobs First, a Kauffman- and Ford Foundation-backed Washington, D.C. group, has posted this interesting searchable Subsidy Tracker database aggregating corporate subsidies, tax breaks and other gifts to businesses across the U.S. Governments typically provide what critics right and left call "corporate welfare" to companies in hopes of gaining or keeping jobs. The database covers a long period -- and it only notes promised announced subsidies, not actual dollars collected, as I note below.

Top cumulative Pennsylvania subsidy recipients on the list include:
Royal Dutch/Shell -- $1.65 billion, for a Pittsburgh-area gas-based project that is years from delivery;
Aker (ex-Kvaerner) -- $350 million, for a 1997 initial subsidy to its Philadelphia shipyard;
Volkswagen -- $100 million in 1977 for its ill-fated New Stanton car factory;
Lions Gate Entertainment -- $76 million for filmmaker tax breaks;
Viacom -- $63 million for more Hollywood-in-Pa. tax breaks;
Vanguard Group -- $63 million, mostly for a 2000 project that wasn't actually built (so the subsidies weren't used);
Comcast -- $50 million for a string of video and construction projects;
Merck -- $44 million;
21st Century Fox -- $38 million;
Liberty Interactive (QVC owner John Malone's entertainment group) -- $33 million

I asked Thomas Cafcas, research analyst at Good Jobs First, why the group includes subsidies like that one Vanguard grant that weren't actually delivered. He said there are a lot of "never disbursed" awards -- and that there's a lesson: "With companies leaving so much in subsidies on the table, to us it shows that these aren't really moving the needle and aren't behaving as 'incentives'." He also complained Pennsylvania makes its "Keystone Opportunity Zone deal" benefits especially tough to track.

At least Vanguard, Comcast and Merck have been longterm large employers; in those cases, you could argue the taxpayers have something to show in exchange for tens of millions in tax breaks or grants.