October 17, 2008 12:10PM

“Press Release Economics” in New Jersey

My misadventures in state government led me to coin a phrase for what has become the economic growth model of choice for a lot of governors: “Press Release Economics.” It comes in many shapes and sizes, but it basically boils down to the orchestrated PEZ‐​dispensing of taxpayer money on short‐​term “economic growth” schemes for crass political gain.

The most common form is probably the targeted tax break and/​or corporate welfare grant/​loan to incite a company to relocate within a state’s borders. Politicians love these taxpayer‐​financed giveaways because they come complete with lots of visible media coverage: press releases, newspaper articles, radio and television reports, and best of all…the photo op. Ah yes, that priceless picture of the governor all dressed up with a hard hat, ceremonial spade in hand, and a big toothy grin.

One would be hard pressed to find justification for these political endeavors in the economic literature, but then again the little Potemkins who run state “economic development” bureaucracies don’t have time to be bothered with trivialities when there are “jobs to create.”

Today I read that Gov. John Corzine has come up with a $150 million package to help the New Jersey economy. The concoction includes two peculiar items: money for banks to get them to lend and a $3,000 check to small businesses for each employee they hire and employ for a year. “Create a job and we will send you a $3,000 check,” Gov. Corzine says.

With regard to the first one, the New York Times reports:

James Silkensen, president of the New Jersey League of Community Bankers, said he had not heard complaints from his members about needing more cash. “Our members are telling us that they’ve got money to lend,” Mr. Silkensen said. “They aren’t going to change their underwriting standards. I can’t say every bank has sufficient funds to lend. But most I have talked to are lending, though they’re being careful.”

With regard to the second one, it’s pure press release economics. Why not $4,000 an employee? Or $5,000? Why just “small” businesses? Do “large” businesses contribute nothing to the New Jersey economy? How will this initiative be enforced? How much will it cost taxpayers for New Jersey bureaucrats to make sure each and every new hire was employed not less than 365 days? How many of the $3,000 check employees would have been hired anyhow? How many jobs will be lost because of the tax burden needed to pay for this scheme and others?

Here’s a better idea, Governor: propose serious tax and spending cuts. New Jersey’s general fund is up 40% from just five years ago, which amounts to a $1,000 per New Jersery citizen spending increase. At the same time, New Jersey’s business tax climate was recently found to be the worst of the fifty states.