"The answer is, if you're a corporation, that's exactly what you do."
1. The corporate blackmail exemption.
In 2006, Starbucks chieftain Howard Schultz sold the Seattle Supersonics to Clay Bennett for $350 million — with the "understanding" he would keep the team in Seattle.
Almost immediately, Bennett — who made his money by marrying the daughter of billionaire Edward Gaylord, owner of Country Music Television — asked Seattle to pony up $300 million for a new arena. The city wasn't eager, since it had already spent $75 million renovating the existing arena a decade before.
Bennett decided to blackmail Seattle, using Oklahoma City as leverage. Oklahoma had no major sports team of its own. So its otherwise conservative legislature offered Bennett a huge welfare package: $120 million for arena renovations and a new practice facility.
Seattle balked. Oklahoma had a new basketball team.
Yet according to the tax code, not all entitlements are created equal. While a laid-off electrician still pays taxes on his $500-a-week unemployment check, Bennett didn't pay a dime on his $120 million welfare bonanza.
This exemption only sweetens corporate incentive to blackmail states and cities whenever they consider moving. Take Toyota.
In 2002, it decided to build an assembly plant for its Tundra pickup, taking advantage of cheap labor in the South. Just like Oklahoma, otherwise anti-entitlement states like Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas stumbled over one another with monstrous welfare packages.
Texas ultimately won by offering $227 million in subsidies. The state had purchased the right to host 2,000 workers at a plant in San Antonio — at a cost of $110,000 per job.
Yet for America as a whole, the deal was a spectacular loss.
It wasn't long before Toyota closed a similar plant in California, killing 4,700 jobs and shifting production to San Antonio and Canada.
The net result: Texas taxpayers forked over $227 million so America could lose 2,700 jobs. The only winner was the Japanese automaker, which walked away with a tax-free welfare package.
Still, Congress continues to offer blackmailers this lucrative break, though it provides no benefit to the country.
"There isn't one bit of improvement whether the Toyota plant goes north or south of the Tennessee-Alabama border," says Johnson. "Yet they will make money off the fact that there is a line between them. It's just nonsense."
Unfortunately, nonsense is the calling card of the tax code. Surely even Mitt Romney can see that.