There was a time when it seemed that no state could be more generous than Georgia when it came to giving tax assistance to corporations and their CEOs.
After all, this is the state where only last week the governor signed legislation that will give tax breaks totaling $30 million over the next two years to a company Delta Air Lines that already reported more than $1.4 billion in net income during 2010.
It turns out that I was wrong to think that no one could top our generosity to the business community. Over in Alabama, government officials are putting together a package of financial incentives for a major corporation that will total more than $1 billion.
That is one heck of a lot of assistance.
As reported by the Mobile Press-Register, the Mobile County Industrial Development Authority has voted to give ThyssenKrupp AG, a German company that is planning to open a steel mill, tax abatements that will total $612 million over the next 20 years. This means that for a 20-year period, ThyssenKrupp will not be required to pay the property taxes and sales taxes that other Alabama businesses and individuals are required to pay.
But wait, as they say in the cable TV commercials. There's more.
State and local governments have also agreed to give ThyssenKrupp cash, training services and other amenities worth $461 million. Combined with those tax abatements, that brings the total amount of state and local incentives to $1.073 billion.
All of those financial incentives have been pledged to ThyssenKrupp for opening a steel plant that will provide an estimated 2,700 jobs. With a financial package that totals $1.07 billion, that means Alabama taxpayers will be putting up more than $400,000 per job.
Now that is what you call government generosity. It even surpasses the spirit of giving displayed by our former governor, Sonny Perdue, several years ago.
When Perdue was first elected governor in 2002, one of the unresolved issues he had to deal with was the finalization of an agreement between the state and DaimlerChrysler for the location of an auto assembly plant on a state-owned site in Chatham County.
Outgoing governor Roy Barnes had pulled together a package of financial incentives to persuade the German-American automaker to open a factory in the Pooler area that would employ 3,400 people. Shortly before he was sworn in as governor, Perdue was given the details of the Barnes package: it was worth $320 million, which amounted to $96,000 per job.
"When Sonny read the secret details of the contract, his jaw hit the floor," Perdue's communications director, Dan McLagan, said. "However, the state had made a commitment. All we could do was honor it while muttering under our breath, Never again, never again.'"
"Never again," as it turned out, didn't really mean never again.
DaimlerChrysler decided against opening that auto plant. When Perdue was running for a second term in 2006, he was anxious to close any kind of deal that would bring economic development to Georgia. In March of that year, Perdue announced an agreement to give Kia Motors of Korea a package of tax and financial incentives worth $410 million to open an automobile factory in West Point that would employ 2,500 people.
That financial package averaged more than $160,000 per job, about 70 percent higher than the Barnes offer to DaimlerChrysler that supposedly caused Perdue's jaw to "hit the floor."
At the time, it looked like Perdue had set a record for government generosity that would never be broken in our lifetimes, but the officials of Alabama have stepped up to the plate and opened their coffers even wider.
Of course, the folks in Alabama have never hesitated to lay out the big money when it comes to government projects.
It was local officials in Jefferson County (Birmingham) who got fleeced by a pack of Wall Street speculators and plunged the county into a $5 billion hole when they built a new sewer system. It was also in Alabama where, according to a federal indictment, lobbyists were allegedly promising as much as $2 million apiece in their efforts to persuade legislators to approve the legalization of electronic bingo.
Here in Georgia, we've obviously got some catching up to do.
Tom Crawford is the editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Wednesdays.