Accountable USA - Pennsylvania

Updated 5/19/2021

 

Pennsylvania's economic development toolbox contains some costly subsidy programs that need sharpening to achieve greater accountability. The Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) program is a good example of the kind of old, unfocused, outmoded approach to economic development that has generated its share of controversy. Pennsylvania has also been known to aggressively pursue very large deals, such as the $1.65 billion in tax credits it gave to Royal Dutch Shell in 2012 for an ethane cracker facility that is expected to hire just 400-600 workers.

Most incentive programs are administered by the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). Recipient information is kept in an online database called the Investment Tracker and can also be found in the contract database of the state Treasury Department. The Department of Revenue administers the Research and Development Tax Credit and publishes an annual report listing the recipients and awards.

The Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) is mandated by Act 48 of 2017 to review the state's tax credit programs on a five-year cycle and has so far covered Film Production, R&D, Keystone Innovation Zone, New Jobs, and several other tax credit programs. These reviews have turned up some interesting findings. For example, the film tax credit generates a deeply negative return of just 13.1 cents in tax revenue per tax credit dollar spent, meaning that taxpayers cover 86.9 percent of the program costs. Even though (KOZ) is the state's costliest program, it's been 11 years since the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee evaluated it. 

 

KEEP UP WITH THE LATEST ON PENNSYLVANIA:

Corporate misconduct: Results page for Pennsylvania in our Violation Tracker

Subsidy deals: Results page for Pennsylvania in our Subsidy Tracker (see also: megadeals)

Tax revenue loss: Results page for Pennsylvania in our Tax Break Tracker (see also: roadmap)

Blog and press releases: Results page for Pennsylvania in our Newsroom

Publications: Our reports and studies featuring Pennsylvania

 

 

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Key Subsidy Programs

Subsidy Program Recent Annual
Cost
Online Recipient
Disclosure
Recipient Disclosure
Score
Job-Creation/
Job-Quality Score**
Monitoring/
Enforcement Score***

Film Production Tax Credit

to encourage film and TV production

$63.0 million (2020)
33/100
10/100
35/100

Tax Credit for New Jobs (formerly Job Creation Tax Credit)

to promote job creation

$10.1 million (2019)
35/100
60/100
63/100

Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ)

to foster young companies to grow in designated geographic areas

$15.1 million (2020)
26/100
not included
not included

Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ)

offers property tax abatements, hiring credits, and sales and use tax exemptions for businesses located in KOZs.

$84.3 million (2020)
0/100
0/100
23/100

Research and Development Tax Credit

to encourage R&D expenditures

$55.0 million (2019)

* The score is derived from the Good Jobs First report Show Us the Subsidized Jobs (January 2014).

** The score is derived from the Good Jobs First report Money for Something (December 2011).

*** The score is derived from the Good Jobs First report Money-Back Guarantees for Taxpayers (January 2012).

Major Subsidy Deals

Royal Dutch Shell (2012)

In 2012, the state approved a $1.65 billion subsidy package for Shell over 25 years ($66 million in tax credits every year starting 2017) for an ethane cracker in Beaver County. And because the cracker is located in a virtually tax-free Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) -- the boundary redrawn to incorporate as much of the project as possible, Shell will be able to obtain cash by selling its tax credits. Supported by one of the largest subsidies in Pennsylvania's history, the cracker is expected to open in 2022 and employ 400-600 permanent employees. (Source)

Westinghouse Electric (2006)

In November 2006, the state legislature created a new subsidy program to retain the nuclear engineering company Westinghouse Electric. In March 2008, Westinghouse chose Cranberry, which offered a local-state subsidy package worth about $45 million over 15 years to capture the projected 3,000 jobs. The state offered several million more in other benefits. It later came to light that Westinghouse would not own the new complex but rather lease it from a real estate investment trust. The facility formally opened in October 2010 with projections that it would eventually house 5,000 employees. (Key sources)

Walmart in Pennsylvania

  • At least 7 Wal-Mart locations have received subsidies worth about $25.9 million in Pennsylvania.
  • At least 17 Wal-Mart locations in Pennsylvania have challenged their property tax assessment, recouping about $763,000.
  • Wal-Mart was found to have more workers than any other employer in the state relying on publicly-funded health insurance. This shows how taxpayers end up subsidizing Wal-Mart’s policy of providing low wages and inadequate benefits.
  • Wal-Mart receives about $3.2 million a year from a state policy that allows retailers to keep a portion of the sales tax they collect from customers.

For more information, see the Pennsylvania page of Wal-Mart Subsidy Watch.