State Auditor Suzanne Bump intends to review public subsidies for Evergreen Solar, the energy company that recently announced plans to shutter its Devens plant and move more 800 jobs elsewhere despite receiving millions of dollars in public funds, as part of a broader review of the state’s entire system of tax incentives.
With the Patrick administration saying it could recoup $13 million of the $31 million the state invested in Evergreen Solar, the News Service asked Bump if she was considering an examination of the public subsidies in the company.
Bump’s press secretary Christopher Thompson responded with a statement noting that before she took office, Bump had described reviewing the state’s broad system of tax incentives as a priority.
“She has developed an internal team and a strategy to evaluate these investments with a focus on accountability and tax payer [sic] benefit,” Thompson said. “The Auditor’s review will take a broad look at many different tax incentives, and the tax incentives granted to Evergreen Solar will be reviewed in this broader context.”
On the campaign trail last year, Bump talked up plans to examine tax incentives, saying they should be measured by the benefits provided to Massachusetts citizens and taxpayers and that accountability for public investments “must be built into state government.”
As a candidate, Bump said that all state tax incentives and credits should be reviewed for effectiveness and that she would begin with economic development tax incentives. She estimated state government would forego $1.7 billion in fiscal 2011 due to tax incentives and credits.
Bump also pledged to conduct audits of agencies charged with providing or documenting tax incentives to determine whether agency managers used appropriate procedures, provided objective analysis, measured outcomes as intended, and held recipients accountable for performance.
State Housing and Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki said last week that Evergreen had received $21 million in cash grants - $20 million to help build its facility and $1 million for workforce training - $7.5 million in investment tax credits and a long-term lease on state land valued at $2.7 million.
Evergreen has received other forms of public aid, but Bialecki said he did not count in his estimate $13 million in state grants used to build road and utilities infrastructure at Devens and some state taxes the company avoided when paying for equipment.
Bialecki estimated the state can recoup $13 million, including the $7.5 million investment tax credit, which he said won’t be claimed, $3 million in state grants that were tied to a job creation formula, and land costs.
"We’re looking very carefully at what happened here and what lessons can be learned," Bialecki said last week. "This wasn’t so much an investment in Evergreen Solar as it was in the clean energy sector. The purpose wasn’t to benefit a company but to grow an industry and the investment really put us on the map."
In announcing its Devens plant closing plans, Evergreen Solar President Michael El-Hillow said the firm’s production costs in Devens were “much higher than those of our low cost competitors in China.”
“Solar manufacturers in China have received considerable government and financial support and, together with their low manufacturing costs, have become price leaders within the industry,” El-Hillow said in a statement. “While the United States and other western industrial economies are beneficiaries of rapidly declining installation costs of solar energy, we expect the United States will continue to be at a disadvantage from a manufacturing standpoint.”
MassGOP Chairman Jennifer Nassour has called the state’s investments in Evergreen “reckless policy” and urged the Patrick administration to offer a more broad-based approach to economic incentives for companies.
House Minority Leader Brad Jones has said that the Evergreen case should serve as a “lesson to Governor Patrick that throwing money at companies in industries he approves of won’t necessarily translate into success.” Jones said Patrick and Lt. Gov. Tim Murray “should turn their attention to creating an economic climate where all businesses can succeed and thrive.”
Gov. Deval Patrick has defended his administration in light of the Evergreen controversy, saying the process of doling out incentives to individual companies or industries "works well."
"I am disappointed that we are losing these manufacturing jobs to China, but Evergreen produced over 900 jobs for each of the years in question (two or three times what they promised) and that was good for the workers who got those jobs," Patrick said during a recent online chat.
"Evergreen did not use about half of the benefits that were offered to them and we have recovered or will recover most of the rest. Beyond that, we need to ask ourselves whether we are serious about competing for jobs on the same playing field as other states. Far more often than not, we win in a competition. But we have to compete to win."
Senate President Therese Murray told WCVB-TV Sunday that Evergreen “paid us back” $11 million based on an initial state investment of $2.5 million. “I think that’s pretty good,” Murray said.
But Murray added, “Probably their five or ten-year plan was a little aggressive . . . It’s still a loss. There should have been a bit more due diligence. I would have had a bigger clawback - that if the jobs left that the money came back.”
Murray said she’s been told that “solar doesn’t make a profit,” adding, “I’m still grappling with that.”
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who has also called into question the Evergreen investments, on Wednesday reiterated his support for tax incentives aimed at stimulating film industry business. DeLeo noted that “The Social Network,” “The Town” and “The Fighter,” which all have a Massachusetts connection, tallied 16 Oscar nominations this week.
“These movies, filmed right here in Massachusetts, are a good reminder of how important the film tax credit has been to our state’s economy in these challenging times,” DeLeo said in a statement, referencing House votes from nearly a year ago to block efforts to reduce incentives available to the film industry.
A Department of Revenue report released this month found that the film tax credit cost the state $82.4 million for productions filmed in 2009 and generated $319 million in spending, of which $104 million was spent in Massachusetts. Of the $215 million spent outside of Massachusetts, $82 million paid salaries of $1 million or more to actors, according to the report.
Over the four years in which the tax credit program has been on the books, the total credit-eligible spending for 449 productions claiming the tax credit was $1.047 billion, with 32 percent or $335.5 million paid to Massachusetts residents and 68 percent or $712.3 million paid to non-residents or out-of-state businesses, according to the Department of Revenue.
On Wednesday, Patrick said his newly unveiled budget proposal included a continuation of the film tax credit program.