GM: From the White House to the statehouse

January 27, 2012 10:08AM

Beacon president & CEO pens an article for the Daily Caller, a national publication, on how General Motors has turned to state governments for taxpayer handouts after its historic federal bailout. This follows a breaking investigative report on the subject by Chris Butler, Beacon’s director of government accountability and editor of The article is reprinted below. Click here for the original investigative piece.   by Justin Owen General Motors is now notorious for reaching deep into the pockets of taxpayers to bail itself out of a bad situation. In 2008, under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, President Bush doled out the first round of what eventually became $50 billion to the Detroit automaker. With that, the United States government became a majority owner in the company. This did not sit well with most taxpayers, who cried foul and rightfully so. Soon thereafter GM became known by the more appropriate moniker of “Government Motors.” Fearing a consumer backlash against it for this historic bailout, GM attempted to distance itself from the Washington scene. But taxpayers weren’t fully off the hook. Rather than retool its business model to become competitive in the free enterprise system, GM turned to another, smaller government teat. Or several of them, actually. Since its grand TARP bailout, the company has received another $1.7 billion in taxpayer-funded grants and tax abatements, not from the federal government, but from states across the country. Some might call this coincidence, but GM freely admits it is outright strategy. In a recent interview with, a project of my organization, a company spokesman stated matter-of-factly that, “We are increasing our activity with the states obviously, in the communities in which we operate.” How right he is. Not long after the TARP bailout, GM began ramping up its lobbying arm in several states—including Tennessee, Maryland, Indiana, and Texas. Over the next few years, public filings reveal the company doubled its lobbying expenditures in Tennessee, increased them by 60 percent in Indiana, and by 78 percent in Texas, while also hiring in-state lobbyists in each of the states to give it the proverbial boots on the ground. The payoff was handsome. State officials in Tennessee just awarded GM more than $1.5 million in grants, part of which went to reopen a plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. This comes on the heels of a $17 million taxpayer handout in 2009, after which the company immediately packed up and shipped the jobs it had promised Tennesseans back to Michigan. With this track record, there is no certainty it won’t happen again if another state forks over more money to lure them away. GM’s increased lobbying efforts also helped the company obtain a $3 million grant through the Maryland Economic Development Assistance Fund and a $1.5 million grant from the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. In 2009, local Indiana officials announced a $2 million incentive package for the GM assembly plant in Fort Wayne. And in Texas, the company recently applied for refunds on state sales and use tax payments through a state incentive program. For GM, the savings would amount to $3.75 million. Apparently, turning taxpayers on their heads and shaking every penny from their pockets is a profitable corporate strategy for a quasi-public car company. As of last summer, GM sat on roughly $40 billion in reserves. Yet the ribbon-cutting ceremonies with state officials across the country continue like clockwork, with taxpayers footing a lofty bill. All the while, GM touts that it has paid back the billions of dollars that taxpayers used to prop it up in 2008. That claim itself is misleading, but even the amount it has returned to the federal government has essentially been funded—in part—by those same taxpayers via state governments. This adds a whole new meaning to the phrase “in one hand and out the other.” One thing is for sure, four years after TARP, GM has proven that it can still take taxpayers for a ride.   Justin Owen is president & CEO of the Beacon Center of Tennessee, the state’s free market think tank.