Greensboro News & Record
February 16, 1996
High Court Tackles Incentives Debate
Justin Catanos, Staff Writer
Copyright © 1996, Greensboro News & Record
The long debate over the use of economic incentives finally reaches
the state Supreme Court today.
When a controversial case concerning the use of economic incentives
gets argued before the N.C. Supreme Court today, justices will have to
resolve just two key questions:
Does using tax dollars to attract new companies to the state, or help
existing companies expand, constitute a public good? Or does it violate
the state constitution?
Winston-Salem lawyer William Maready believes he knows - and he has
a lower court ruling that says he's right. Maready's contention that
incentives violate the state constitution began a year ago as a quirky
citizen challenge, then quickly grew to have statewide implications.
Since Maready's challenge, the use of economic incentives has slowed
dramatically in North Carolina. Business recruiters swear the state is
losing out on millions in investments and thousands of jobs. And everyone
from Gov. Jim Hunt to Commerce Secretary Dave Phillips wants that lower
court ruling overturned.
Attorney General Mike Easley will argue for the state - and for the use
of economic incentives - before the justices today. A ruling isn't expected
for two or three months.
''To me, a resolution one way or another is an improvement over where
we are today,'' said David Copenhavor, vice president for economic development
for the Greensboro Area Chamber of Commerce. ''At least we'll know where
Despite the controversy surrounding economic incentives nationwide,
apparently no one, anywhere, has challenged a city or state's authority
to use public money to assist private industry. Until Maready.
Throughout 1993 and 1994, the 63-year-old litigator watched as his city
gave millions to such huge, profitable companies as Pepsi-Cola, Southern
National Bank, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Wachovia to help them expand, build
parking lots, train employees, even help with moving expenses.
Maready thought it was a gross misappropriation of funds, and inherently
unfair to average citizens who would never qualify for such public largesse.
But rather than simply grumble about it, Maready researched state law
and came to believe that the use of economic incentives violates the
A year ago, he filed a lawsuit on his own behalf in Superior Court in
Winston-Salem. The suit demanded that Winston-Salem stop paying incentives
and that $ 6 million obtained by private companies be paid back to the public
Last August, in a week-long hearing, Judge Julius Rousseau ruled in
Maready's favor. Rousseau halted the use of incentives in Winston-Salem,
but did not require a repayment of funds. The decision was immediately appealed.
To speed the process, both sides agreed to bypass the appellate court and
going straight to the state's high court.
Before long, Maready, whose battle was first deemed quixotic, found
himself the object of scorn among state business leaders and something of
a folk hero among citizens who relished his taking on big government and
big business - and winning.
Maready soon was featured in The Wall Street Journal, as well as newspapers
across the state. And he has been in hot demand to speak to civic and business
groups all over the Triad.
Through it all, Maready - who says the effort has cost him$ 12,000
of this own money and is seeking no damages for himself from the suit -
has stuck to this mantra: Tax money is for schools and parks and streets.
He's also fond of saying: ''If a company is going to pass over North
Carolina for a few hundred thousand dollars, let them. We don't need
Business recruiters, of course, see it differently. They argue that if
North Carolina communities cannot offer economic incentives, they cannot
compete with states such as Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia, which
have far more aggressive incentives policies.
''We don't give tax credits, we don't have enterprise zones, we don't
offer cash grants like our neighboring competitors,'' said Gary Carlton,
the Commerce Department's chief economic developer.
'' North Carolina has to have a carrot - something - to dangle in front
of these companies. If we don't have a carrot, we don't have a chance of
getting them to come to our dance.''
Has the Maready case had an impact on recruiting? It's hard to tell.
Last fall, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners voted 6-5 against
awarding $ 150,000 in incentives to PPG, a company that planned to spend
$ 25 million on a factory upgrade near the airport. Several commissioners
cited the Maready case as the primary reason.
Yet the Greensboro City Council approved $ 120,000 in incentives for
PPG, and the company stuck by its plans to build in the the city. (PPG has
agreed to forgo the incentives if Maready prevails.)
Trade publications continue to rank North Carolina among the top states
in the country in industrial relocation. Yet the state has also seen some
multi-billion projects it had the lead on - Motorola's big new computer
chip-making plant, for example - head to Virginia instead for $ 90 million
in incentives. Motorloa had considered a site near Durham.
Carlton stressed that '' North Carolina is not going to sell its soul
to attract new business.'' But he added that corporate downsizing - and
the loss of thousands of jobs - puts that much more pressure on state economic
developers to attract new industries.
Recently, the Commerce Department noted that 43,000 new jobs were created
in North Carolina last year. That compares with more than 100,000 new
jobs created in both 1994 and 1993.
''Nobody can say specifically that it was a result of incentives, ''
said Copenhavor, the Greensboro chamber recruiter.
''But think about it - it has to be a contributing factor.
''Last year was an excellent year in the Southeast. For those (jobs)
numbers to be down so far, it is at least indicative that the incentive
cloud may have had an impact on the state.''
None of that worries Maready, who maintains: ''Good companies will
continue to come to North Carolina because this is a good place to do
Carlton, who has much at stake in the outcome of the case, tries to be
''Mr. Maready has caused a lot of interest in incentives, and I don't
think it's as damaging as some people say,'' Carlton said.
''It has raised awareness. Do we try to stay competitive, and at what
price? Or do we put incentives aside and sell the state on its merits?
These are tough questions.''
Used with permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this article may be
reproduced, translated, or transmitted in any form or by any means without
permission in writing from the Greensboro News & Record.
Copyright ©1996, Greensboro News & Record.
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