What Is Competitiveness?
Last Thanksgiving at the Reno airport, I saw ads for Microsoft jobs at the company's local operations ["Citizen Microsoft," Sept. 29]. The jobs didn't require a techie background; they looked appropriate for people with a business degree or a liberal arts degree. The ads make one wonder how much of a tax break our state would have to give in order to pull these jobs back. What's going to be more cost-effective for Microsoft: to improve our region's education and supply of affordable housing, or to seek tax breaks for itself that make education improvements and affordable housing less likely?
A Bay Area venture capitalist recently spoke at the Seattle-area MIT Forum entrepreneurs' group. When asked her opinion of Washington's competitiveness, she stated something along the lines of: When we're recruiting for venture-backed companies in Seattle, we can no longer use housing prices as a recruiting tool. Also, the area has a very high percentage of students in private schools, which also cuts down on the area's attractiveness for families, because it means a relatively higher cost of living.
As Microsoft and the Competitiveness Council chime in for their tax breaks or pet projects, it is worth asking, "What is competitiveness?" Is it just having checklist big infrastructure projects and no taxes?
Often our "competitiveness" agenda seems to be defined by the bond attorneys, contractors, labor, and others who benefit in the short run from higher debt. Let's cross our fingers and hope that Microsoft's political agenda will focus on wise government investments, not just boondoggle projects, additional public debt, and tax breaks.
Jeff Reifman's excellent article begs the question as to why legislators consistently vote for corporate tax breaks, not just in Washington, but also in many other states ["Citizen Microsoft," Sept. 29].
Essentially what is at stake is a variety of blackmail. Corporations argue that if the break isn't approved, they will take their activities elsewhere. If they do so, people in the state from which they will depart will lose jobs, and politicians fear they will get the blame for not taking action to encourage the companies to stay. The consequential linkage in this situation appears to be very explicit: A particular politician casts a public vote, a specific corporation takes an action, and specific people with names lose jobs.
On the other hand, the consequential linkage when a politician votes in favor of a corporate tax break, while equally or perhaps even more detrimental to the public, as Reifman's article points out, is not at all transparent. Just how much revenue is lost isn't clear (Reifman, for instance, has had to make estimates); the losses are part of a general revenue picture that includes all kinds of fluctuations. It is hard to trace, for example, inadequate funds for education stemming from a general revenue shortfall to any one particular action by any one particular politician.
The political asymmetry here is rather powerful.
I've wondered to myself what would happen if companies such as Microsoft could somehow be required to incorporate themselves in—and according to all the tax, environmental, and other laws of—whatever locality the company's CEO chose to live in and to send his or her kids to school in ["Citizen Microsoft," Sept. 29]. Perhaps we might see a slowing of the money drift to Bombay and Nevada.
Yes, I know . . . I'm dreaming.
Mountain View, CA
No Tax Break Left Behind
Thank you for Jeff Reifman's insightful article on the inner workings of Microsoft ["Citizen Microsoft," Sept. 29].
For several years now, I have become educated in the effects of the business practices of Microsoft, particularly as they relate to the company's behavior toward the growth and acceptance of free/open-source software. It is my impression that, rather than becoming more competitive in developing and producing superior technology, Microsoft has spent many years becoming arrogant, greedy, and predatory, not to mention an illegal monopoly.
I sincerely hope that politicians who honor and support their states do indeed wake up to the politics of business/politics, so that large corporations like Microsoft will not be able to continue "exploiting" tax and other loopholes for their own benefit only, leaving communities behind.
Millionaires No More
Why does Jeff Reifman have such animosity toward Microsoft, seeing how he made his money there, which enables him to follow his heart and work for nonprofit companies making much less than he did at Microsoft ["Citizen Microsoft," Sept. 29]? Maybe when we are 80 and inflation has made us our millions, we'll be more antagonistic toward our old benefactor, just like Reifman. But in the meantime, we'll just toil away hoping our jobs aren't shipped off to Hyderabad, having long ago given up the dream of becoming millionaires when we are still young, just like Reifman.
" Just because the naysayers' fears are all coming true is not justification for stopping the project" ["Let's Get On With It," Sept. 29]. Wow! How is that different than saying: I protested against the Iraq war and my fears are all coming true, so I'm going to vote for Bush? "At some point, a final decision has got to be a final decision. Even if it's controversial. . . . It doesn't matter." Wow! Sounds exactly like something Bush would say.
The monorail was an interesting idea that I was hesitant to vote for because there were too many unanswered questions. Now, a few years later, there seems to be more information on which to base a thoughtful decision. Geov Parrish, using impeccable Bush logic, implies that the important thing is to continue along a course of action simply because a decision has been made. No matter if there has been additional information made available or that a change of attitude has occurred.
Of course, that is why we have elections: So the public can evaluate public officials, propositions, and referenda and decide whether to continue in the current direction or change our collective mind, for whatever reason.
C. Mathew Curtz
The Tax that Keeps on Taxing
"Seattle Process run amok," exactly ["Let's Get On With It," Sept. 29]! There's only one thing Geov Parrish didn't mention in his excellent case for why the city should go ahead with building the monorail, and that is this: Even if the anti-monorail vote prevails, the people of Seattle are still going to keep paying for monorail-related costs via their car tabs—and after shelling out all that money, they won't have a thing to show for it.
Lauren St. Pierre
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