In the first comprehensive analysis of 783 EDGE agreements, the Chicago Tribune found that two of every three businesses that completed the incentive program failed to maintain the number of employees they agreed to retain or hire.
State officials can’t say how many jobs have been created through the job program; nor can they say how many jobs EDGE companies have eliminated. The Tribune, however, found that 79 current or former EDGE recipients have reported eliminating 23,369 jobs through layoffs and closures since entering the program.
Officials have long pitched tax breaks as a competitive tool that bolsters the state’s fragile economy, and the program has seen explosive growth as Illinois battles with other states to attract and retain businesses. Leaders of the EDGE program say it has been a lifeline for dozens of companies, helping to create new jobs and improve workplaces.
But the Tribune’s analysis suggests that tax credits often do little to help companies expand or create sustainable jobs. A pattern of deals emerges in which businesses lobbied for maximum rewards and minimum requirements — and the state said yes.
Tax breaks may help politicians claim they are bringing in new jobs and money but they don’t often benefit taxpayers as much as the political and business leaders suggest. See earlier posts here and here. And perhaps the biggest issue is that once come communities or state start offering tax breaks, everyone feels like they have to play the game as well just to get a hearing from major corporations. It can then become a race to the bottom: as governments offer more and more breaks, companies benefit more and more yet the local area gets less and less.
If the Tribune‘s analysis is correct, perhaps a better route for the state would be to improve business conditions overall rather than resorting to tax breaks to simply survive.