Enterprise Zones Key to California Job Creation

Assemblyman Cameron Smyth
Assembly Assistant Republican Leader representing the 38th Assembly District

An article in Forbes shortly after the November
election charted California’s fall from role model to cautionary tale, aptly
noting that the decline of our economy was largely self-inflicted.  We
have over-taxed and over-regulated businesses to the point that it no longer
makes financial sense for them to stay here, let alone move or expand
here.  At a time when we should be doing everything in our power to
stimulate economic growth, Governor Brown has proposed extending tax increases
and eliminating tax credits.  Rather than figuring out how to attract
businesses to California, these actions will do everything short of packing the
moving vans for them. 

While cuts and tax extensions remain the most
controversial centerpieces of Governor Brown’s proposed budget, his call to
eliminate redevelopment agencies and Enterprise Zones has many local government
advocates, including myself, concerned.  Enterprise Zones are an important
tool for local governments looking to spark job creation and economic
development.  The impact of the Governor’s proposal on communities in my
district and around California would be devastating.

For those unfamiliar with the program, an Enterprise Zone
is a designated area in which businesses can receive substantial tax credits
and benefits for things like equipment purchases, and hiring qualified
employees – veterans, ex-offenders, and other disadvantaged workers, to name a
few.  These designations last for 15 years, after which the area must
reapply for a new designation.  Since the program’s inception in 1984,
businesses in Enterprise Zones have recognized over $300 million in tax
incentives.

Almost four years ago, the City of Santa Clarita received
an Enterprise Zone designation that has generated nearly $70 million in
economic benefits for the surrounding community.  Just last month, Santa
Clarita and part of the surrounding unincorporated Los Angeles County were
granted another Enterprise Zone designation – the first city/county partnership
of its kind.  Now, Governor Brown wants to end not only new Enterprise
Zone designations, but also tax credits for existing Enterprise Zones.

Cancelling Enterprise Zone tax credits in the middle of
the 15-year term is constitutionally questionable, but regardless, it is an
ill-timed bait and switch for the local governments and businesses that have
made long-term business decisions based on the availability of existing tax
incentives.  While planning for the future hasn’t been one of our state
government’s strong points over the last decade, we shouldn’t penalize
businesses that plan ahead. 

Governor Brown’s rationale for ending the program is
based on a study by the Public Policy Institute of California that found no net
effect to the state.  He suggests that instead of generating new economic
development, they simply shift economic activity from one geographic area in
the state to another.  Therefore, he concludes, they are not of statewide
interest.

I disagree. 

In many cases, the tax incentives created by Enterprise
Zones are the only things keeping businesses from fleeing to other states and I
believe the state has a compelling interest in maintaining the program.  A
co-author of that same PPIC study admitted that it did not account for the program’s effect on lowering poverty and
raising income.  In fact, another study conducted by researchers at two
universities found that Enterprise Zones led to lower poverty and unemployment
rates, and higher wages and household income levels.  It’s hard to imagine
a greater statewide interest than putting people to work and reducing
California’s staggering unemployment.

Enterprise Zones are one of California’s most effective
tools in combating the threat from states like Nevada, Oregon, or Texas which
have no income tax.  Rather than relocate, businesses have the opportunity
to stay in California because these tax credits help offset their state income
tax liability.  In turn, those businesses employ hardworking Californians
who put their earnings back into our economy.

Instead of making the penny-wise, pound-foolish decision
to eliminate the program altogether, why not seek to improve the program and
develop better accountability measures?  We should demand tangible proof
that programs are working, and use successful areas like Santa Clarita as
models for how to properly plan and manage them.  It is one thing to cut
waste, but quite another to get rid of one of the few programs that actually
encourages investment in California.

Numerous publications already rank California at or near
the bottom in terms of the cost of doing business, and our general economic
climate.  A recent study found that between January 2010 and August 2010,
California lost 153 businesses to Texas, while another determined that since
1998, California has not produced a single new net job.  That’s
unacceptable, and proposals to eliminate Enterprise Zones will continue to
cripple our economy and drive businesses out of the state.

California should be a place that businesses aspire to
move to.  Not only do we have a highly-skilled workforce and plentiful
natural resources, but we also have some of the finest universities in the
world turning out entrepreneurial talent by the thousands.  Sadly, like so
many jobs, that talent is leaving the state at a staggering pace. 

That’s good news for neighboring states, but a disaster
for California.

Assemblyman Cameron Smyth is Chair of the Assembly Local
Government Committee, and represents the 38th Assembly District, which
includes the cities of Los Angeles, Santa Clarita, Simi Valley and Glendale.

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