General Electric Boston Deal: The Missing Manual

imgresThe saga of General Election’s flight from Connecticut began with the June 2015 passage of a very much needed package of state tax increases aimed at raising an extra $1.1 billion over the next two years. By extending a temporary 20 percent surcharge on its corporate profits tax and by implementing a more straightforward way of calculating corporate taxes, the Constitution State expects to pull in $700 million of that total from major corporations. The money will be used to fund social programs and improve mass transit. Imagine that.

GE brass immediately flipped out and followed through on a threat to move their headquarters out of Connecticut. They began publicly courting cities around the United States to get the best possible deal. Boston moved to the front of the pack by the fall. Then, last week, GE officially announced that they would be moving their HQ to the Hub — specifically the so-called “Innovation District” on our soon-to-be-flooded waterfront.

What followed has been one of the most disgusting spectacles of press release transcription by the Boston mainstream news media in memory. Fulsome praise was lavished on Gov. Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and their busy lieutenants like John Barros for literally selling out the people of this city and this Commonwealth. A massive giveaway of $25 million in city “property tax relief” and $120 million in state “grants, tax incentives, infrastructure improvements, and help with real estate acquisition costs” to GE was treated as if it was the product of genius, rather than another nail in the coffin of democracy.

The record of one of the most vicious and capricious corporations in world history was soft pedaled by focusing on the supposed benefits of the deal to the people of the Bay State. Which are … what exactly? The 800 predominantly transplanted jobs at the new GE Boston HQ? The up to 600 jobs at the new Marlborough branch of GE Healthcare Life Sciences by 2017? The assertion that the company will “base a new division, focused on lighting and energy, in a to-be-announced location in the Boston area” at some point? Airy claims about GE’s presence attracting other businesses to the state? Blather about “corporate philanthropy to the arts?” And something about “bragging rights?”

Stuff and nonsense. For starters, the vast majority of jobs that will be created locally by GE in the coming years will be professional/managerial level. These jobs will be held by the kind of helicopter yuppies that will then buy some of the expensive condos currently being built all over the region. These few new jobs are not the jobs that are needed. They are not the tens of thousands of regular jobs that are going to help get beleaguered working and middle-class families back on their feet after the economic depredations of the last 40-plus years. Depredations that GE pioneered.

The company had 13,000 mostly unionized workers in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, decades back. Last fall, the Saudi Arabian-owned remnant of the former GE plastics division, which was based there, announced that it was leaving for Houston and taking the last significant group of ex-GE jobs, 300 in total, with it.

GE also had over 12,000 mostly unionized workers in Lynn, Massachusetts as recently as the early 1980s. Now there are about 1,400 unionized workers left and 3,000 workers overall. GE closed its plant in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, in 1998,  taking 600 good jobs with it. GE is closing its Avon, Massachusetts, plant later this year. Another 300 jobs gone. These are cuts that have devastated a number of communities and have contaminated the Housatonic River around Pittsfield with PCBs that GE is still fighting to avoid fully cleaning up — an issue capably reviewed by the International Business Times last week.

Over the past year, GE leadership has continued such labor “innovations” by cutting medical and life insurance benefits to all non-unionized retirees who are over 65 on January 1, 2015. It cut the same benefits to all unionized retirees over 65 at the start of this year. Tossing a mere thousand bucks a year to tens of thousands of GE retirees around the country and telling them to buy their own supplemental medical plans somehow.

Given this disturbing backstory, the claim by feckless politicians that property taxes and other taxes GE will eventually have to pay Boston and Massachusetts will soon outstrip the $145 million being handed to them beggars belief. GE is a vast corporate behemoth that employs hundreds of tax specialists to avoid paying any taxes at all. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, between 2010 and 2014, GE earned $33.5 billion in profits but claimed federal tax refunds of $1.4 billion — an effective tax rate of -4.3 percent. It also paid a combined state tax bill of only $530 million — an effective state tax rate of just 1.6 percent for the period.

This is GE. This is the corporate scofflaw that Charlie and Marty and their many business buddies cut a bad deal with. Now what are readers going to do to stop it and #makeGEpay?

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director. Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.



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