“Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.”
- Napoleon Bonaparte
Substitute the word “conspiracy” for “malice”, and that’s how I think of conspiracy theories. I’m typically very skeptical, and I’d like to see some proof rather than “isn’t it possible that…..?” before I believe something. More often than not, bad things in our world happen because of mistakes, rotten judgment and foolishness.
But just because I doubt conspiracy theories in general doesn’t mean there aren’t real conspiracies afoot. Consider the following:
- As reported by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Georgia lawmakers hoovered up campaign contributions in get-togethers with special interests just before going into session. Of course, they can’t accept contributions after the session is underway – that sacred period is reserved for unlimited gift giving by lobbyists to our legislators, you see – so they had to get the outright contribution dough early.
- As the paper reported, lawmakers received at least $80,000 in contributions in these fundraisers (which lobbyists refer to as “cattle calls”) from business interests and other supporters of a tax bill that was passed and then signed by Governor Deal.
- The tax bill, as you’ll remember, was cobbled together secretly at the tail end of the session and shamelessly rushed through both chambers. Our elected officials could thus avoid uncomfortable questions.
Don’t worry, our leaders tell us. These contributions never affect their decisions. Nor do dinners and trips and golf outings. How dare you ask!
And this bill is a “job creator” we’re told. Because tax breaks and incentives create new jobs, so you’ve got to like it, right?
Here’s the problem: For the hundreds of millions given away in business tax breaks for the purpose of job creation, no one ever checks to see if any jobs were created. Does it make sense to pass more tax deals before verifying that the ones already in force have worked? Otherwise, all you can prove is that those special interests that gave to legislators and fêted them with gifts and dinners were repaid with tax breaks.
There was a bill proposed in the House that would have been a first step in addressing this lack of accountability. Sponsored by Representatives Chuck Martin (R – 47th District) , Ed Lindsey (R – 54th District), Bruce Williamson (R – 111th District) and Stacey Abrams (D – 84th District), House Bill 920 called for a tax expenditure review and analysis, one that would measure the impact of each break and whether value is being produced. While this bill passed out of committee, it never reached the floor for a vote. The word was that “someone” didn’t like it, so it died. How surprising.
The Pew Center on the States issued a report just last week evaluating tax credits and job growth. The good news is that Georgia is not alone in its complete failure to perform even the bare minimum in cost-benefit analyses of tax breaks. Pew found that half the states have not taken basic steps to produce and connect policy makers with good evidence of whether business tax credits and incentives deliver a strong return on taxpayer dollars. This knowledge gap “…is particularly worrisome at a time of tight budgets and sluggish economic growth. If policy makers do not base their decisions about tax incentives on good information, they could be spending scarce resources unwisely.”
So here’s the combination of facts in the conspiracy theory:
- Our legislators have their hands out – and pocketbooks open – 24/7. Before the session, they expect contributions to their campaign coffers from special interest. During the session, they expect gifts.
- The contributors – special interests, the ones advocating for their self interest – make sure our Georgia Solons get money before during and after the legislative session.
- Decisions on tax legislation – laughably called “tax reform” – are made behind closed doors and revealed at the last possible instant. This is for the benefit of our lawmakers, who don’t want to be made to feel awkward by the scruffy sorts (voters) who would question their actions before deals are made law.
- These contributions-making, gift-giving special interests get the tax breaks and incentives they want.
- There’s no mechanism to hold legislators accountable for their giveaways. The same folks who take the special interest money and pass the tax break legislation that favors them are the same people who would have to pass legislation to help determine the efficacy of tax breaks. So no one is ever held accountable, and the list of breaks just keeps getting longer.
The result, as Pew noted, is that we have dumb decisions being made and only the check-writing special interests come out ahead.
Usually conspiracy theories are intricate. This one isn’t.
Pass out the tin foil hats.
Written by CCGA Board Member: Terry Taylor