Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tech companies to educators, commuters, the poor: screw you

Washington state is currently ranked 37 in college degree production, though it's in the top 10 in terms of employment of high tech workers. The Seattle area is ranked 3 in traffic congestion. Technology companies in this state complain loudly about the impact of congestion and lack of local college graduates on their companies. Bill Gates started a large foundation dedicated to solving other problems: in public health. But, when you get down to it (as you'll read by following the link above), when push comes to shove, public dollars in these companies pockets is more important to them than anything else. In this case, they're arranging things so they won't have to pay state sales tax on their equipment purchases for their server farms. To put this in perspective, the University of Washington -- a state institution -- pays sales tax on its purchases, even when using money allocated to it from state taxes. It's nice to know for whom this country is really run.


  1. I don't mean to support Microsoft, but wouldn't these server farms and all of these employees (I hear there are quite many) generate a lot of transactions. Don't these employees pay taxes? Enough to pay for the roads?

    What I mean here is this... do you have bad roads because Microsoft found a way not to pay its taxes, or because your local government does a bad job and you should elect someone else?

  2. Well, there's another controversy brewing about Microsoft avoiding state taxes, but that's not germane to this. Certainly, the argument for this tax break (like public subsidies to any company, such as professional sports teams) is that in the end it will be revenue-positive. That's a good way to convert a policy discussion into an accounting discussion.

    But accounting isn't the only reason for enacting (or not enacting) laws, because public policy is more than just an accounting exercise.

    As far as the quality of lawmakers in concerned, I think we not only get what we deserve, but what we demand. Given a choice, most voters will elect a politician who says the things they want to hear and proceeds to drive the city/county/state/country into the ground, rather than someone who sticks to reality (which is so often inconveniently contrary to our comfort). I leave thinking up examples as an exercise for the reader (you should be able to come up with about one per second for at least 30 seconds).

    But, back to this subject, which is hypocrisy. If tech companies want their tax breaks, then (like anyone else who wants to pay lower taxes regardless of the consequences) they should stop complaining about poor public infrastructure and services.