Value of GM’s state tax credits remains secret

Chad Livengood, and Melissa Burden

Lansing — General Motors Co. said Tuesday it will invest another $1 billion in Michigan facilities through 2030 as part of a deal with Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration to cap the value of its business income tax credits.

But the Detroit automaker is refusing to publicly disclose the value of the tax credits it will be entitled to cash in over the next 15 years, and the quasi-state economic development agency is allowing it.

“GM considers that information proprietary and competitively sensitive, so we don’t disclose that number,” said Chris Meagher, manager of public policy communications at GM.

The MEDC last valued long-term GM’s tax credits at $2.1 billion in July 2014. State officials have said the value of the tax credits have increased with the rising pay and bonuses of 32,890 GM employees in Michigan covered by the job-retention tax credits.

Steve Arwood, president and CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., said GM agreed to capping its tax credits on condition that the state not disclose the value of the credits.

“How do I question that?” Arwood told reporters after the Strategic Fund board meeting. “The company has requested it not be released for the reasons they’ve articulated to me and I’ve agreed to accept that.”

The non-disclosure of the maximum tax credits GM can claim through 2029 differs from earlier deals the Republican Snyder administration struck with Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.

Ford has agreed to a $2.3 billion cap. The Dearborn automaker’s state tax credits have grown in value by $1.4 billion since they were awarded by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration in 2010, MEDC records show.

Last month, FCA US accepted a $1.7 billion cap on the value of its remaining tax credits, which were originally valued at $1.3 billion in 2010.

The deal makes GM the last of the Detroit Three to voluntarily agree to help Snyder and state lawmakers with budget planning by stopping the value of the tax credits from continuing to grow with the company’s in-state payroll.

The Michigan Strategic Fund board Tuesday voted to amend GM’s Michigan Economic Growth Authority (MEGA) tax credit that dates back to 2009, capping how much of the credit the automaker can claim against its annual Michigan Business Tax bill.

Arwood said he couldn’t disclose what GM, Chrysler and Ford would be limited to claiming in tax credits on an annual basis.

GM announced Tuesday that it will invest $356.35 million — or about one-third of the $1 billion in new capital investment — in a new engine line at its Flint Engine Operations, and in powertrain components at its Saginaw Metal Castings Operations facility and Grand Rapids Components Holdings plant in Wyoming. The investment is expected to create more than 50 jobs and retain nearly 500 others.

“The agreement with GM on MEGA credits helps Michigan’s budget forecast. And today’s announcement that it is investing in Saginaw, Flint and Grand Rapids proves the company wants to retain a strong presence in Michigan,” Snyder said in a statement.

$9.38B in credits

MEGA tax credits are calculated based on the individual state income tax employees covered by the credits would pay.

“That number is based off the tax withholdings of our employees, and we view that as competitively sensitive information that we ... don’t disclose,” GM’s Meagher said.

The MEDC has estimated Michigan could owe companies $9.38 billion in tax credits through 2031. But the state’s economic development agency has declined to disclose the names and amounts of the top 10 companies entitled to the most tax credits.

In April, the MEDC released to The Detroit News a breakdown of tax credits owed to companies based on vague and undefined industries. The “transportation” industry accounted for $9.04 billion or 96 percent of the total long-term liability, though MEDC officials would not define what types of companies were included in that industry.

The escalating costs of the MEGA tax credits — caused by growing payrolls at the Detroit Three — have strained the state’s annual $10 billion general fund, triggering a $325 million mid-year budget cut in February and prompted the Snyder administration to ask the companies to agree to caps on the value of the remaining taxpayer-funded incentives.

Under the deal with GM, the company will be required to provide “periodic forecasts” of its estimated earned tax refunds to help the state with budgeting and cash flow planning. The company also cannot claim more than the estimated tax credit for a year.

“For the public, there should be no more surprises,” Arwood said.

The state stopped awarding companies with new tax credits for retaining or bringing jobs to Michigan, though the Snyder administration continued to amend the deals until the budget crisis earlier this year. Since Snyder took office, the MEDC has added $391 million in tax credits to the nearly $9.5 billion in credits the Granholm administration handed out, The Detroit News reported in February.

‘Unparalleled investments’

GM has made investment commitments in Michigan totaling more than $9 billion since 2009, and the company says it has “far exceeded” the original investment commitment of $3.7 billion under the MEGA agreement and a series of amendments. The automaker believes its investment has helped Michigan’s economic recovery.

“GM continues to make unparalleled investments in the state of Michigan,” said Brian O’Connell, regional director of state government affairs for GM. “The MEGA agreements made Michigan competitive for these investments, which would have otherwise gone to other states or countries.”

The state in June 2009 approved a retention tax credit for General Motors Corp. that was later transferred to the company that emerged following bankruptcy that allowed the automaker to receive a credit for 30,000 retained jobs in Michigan for 20 years. The company’s tax credit later was amended to allow for a maximum of 34,750 retained jobs.

The automaker as of Dec. 31 had retained 32,890 eligible full-time jobs under the credit and had “satisfied its original investment commitment in the sate of Michigan,” according to a memo from the MEDC to the Michigan Strategic Fund board.

The tax credits for GM cover about 70 percent of the automaker’s 49,000-employee Michigan workforce.

In May, GM announced it would invest $1 billion at its Warren Tech Center campus through 2018, creating 2,600 new salaried jobs.

The company, which says it has announced U.S. plant investments of $7.1 billion this year, also announced several Michigan investments as part of an earlier-announced $5.4 billion in U.S. facility upgrades. Those investments are expected over the next three years and will create 650 new jobs.

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