Corporate Welfare Not Needed to Get a Cracker

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that Pennsylvania lawmakers are pushing a special tax deal to attract a “cracker” plant to the state. The proposed Shell cracker—which breaks down natural gas into ethylene, used in plastics—has been much talked about, with the Keystone State reportedly a finalist with Ohio and West Virginia. The plant would create thousands of jobs, at least by internal estimates.

The proposal would expand Keystone Opportunity Zones, exempting certain businesses from taxes (primarily targeted to the cracker). What’s wrong with a KOZ? Well for one thing, tax breaks for a few require higher taxes, spending being equal, on all other businesses. Further, a Legislative Budget and Finance Committee report finds that the KOZ program has little accountability, and the promised jobs often failed to materialize. Most importantly, tax breaks and corporate welfare don’t actually generate economic growth, they simply shift resources.

Rather than expanding corporate welfare, here is what lawmakers need to do to make Pennsylvania more attractive:

  • Enact a natural gas policy that removes the political uncertainty stemming from the Frack Attack, and provides predictability for the gas industry.
  • Improve Pennsylvania’s business climate for all businesses. Indeed, lawmakers should take the lesson from the Keystone Opportunity Zones—that businesses are attracted to lower taxes—and apply it statewide.