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Michael Hiltzik: The corporate gravy train

June 19, 2010 | 11:02 am

The most popular picture of the welfare recipient in the conservative image gallery is that of the undeserving poor. The welfare queen collecting relief checks while reporting to the welfare office in a nice car and luxury duds was a special favorite of Ronald Reagan. This was the sort of unverified story the great press critic A.J. Liebling rightly dismissed as "horsefeathers swathed in mink."

As my Sunday column reports, the true undeserving welfare recipients are big businesses bellied up to the trough for tax abatements and other benefits that can't be empirically justified as job preservation or job creation measures. Hollywood incentive grants, enterprise-zone tax breaks and exemptions from reassessments resulting from Proposition 13 sap the state budget year after year but never take their place on the budget chopping block. 

The state's failure to hold business taxpayers to the same standards as individual taxpayers, much less to impose the same levies as other states, is inexplicable. If California charged drilling companies the same oil severance tax imposed by the onetime governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin -- 25% -- it would raise $4 billion a year at current world oil prices.

The column starts below.

I believe we can all agree on the root cause of the state's $20-billion budget gap.

It's welfare: all those millions of taxpayer dollars going to recipients who line up for their government handouts instead of competing in the marketplace on a level playing field like the rest of us, who don't pay their fair share of taxes and who get protected by a politically powerful lobby.

Yes, I'm talking about the business community.

For all the hand-wringing by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger about how there's almost nothing left to cut in the state budget except services to children, the aged and the destitute, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year on handouts to business. That's despite the lack of evidence that some of these programs keep employers in the state, lure employers from out of state or are cost-effective in any general way.

Read the whole column.

-- Michael Hiltzik

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