Under Armour Wants to Use Baltimore Tax Revenue Without Giving Back to the City

The entire city of Baltimore seemed to be cheering on Michael Phelps as he won his latest set of Olympic medals, continuing his reign as the most decorated Olympian of all time. No one can mistake Baltimore’s pride in our hometown hero. At the entrance to the city on Interstate 95, a giant billboard image of Phelps welcomes one and all.

That image is an advertisement for Under Armour, a brand almost as synonymous with Baltimore as our star swimmer. The major difference between the two? These days, Under Armour and its founder Kevin Plank are getting jeers from once loyal fans.

Why are Under Armour and Plank in such hot water? Sagamore Development Corporation, a company owned by Plank, is planning to revitalize a 260-acre stretch of former industrial land along Baltimore’s Inner Harbor into an exclusive “city within a city” that would house an expanded Under Armour campus. Plank’s one request to the city of Baltimore: To complete this massive Port Covington project, he’s asking for $ 535 million in “tax increment financing.”

If Plank gets these “TIFs” — a combination of upfront city bond payments and deferred property tax liability — his master plan wouldn’t add any new revenues to Baltimore’s tax base for another 40 years. On top of that, the Sagamore Development Corporation would be eligible for another $ 200 million in outright tax breaks.

Plank’s proposal comes with no binding commitment that the Port Covington project would create any affordable housing, hire locally, or promote local business development. What’s worse, his “city within a city,” local critics point out, would also put extra stress on Baltimore’s already underfunded schools, likely be inaccessible to current residents, and further segregate a Baltimore already deeply divided racially and economically.

Over recent years, Baltimore’s City Council has been greenlighting larger and larger TIF agreements and developer subsidies that have provided little if any public benefit. Observers expect the Council to approve the Port Covington plan early this fall, less than five months after its public unveiling.

Cities across the country have turned to similar TIF agreements and tax subsidies to attract big businesses and revitalize their urban cores. But studies and past experience have shown that these agreements do not serve the public interest. Plans like Plank’s have elsewhere generated few if any living-wage jobs for current residents and failed to create any appreciable wealth that trickles back into local communities.

Under Armour has built a compelling national identity around its Baltimore roots. Yet today the company operates just like any other multinational corporation. Baltimore has a skilled, experienced, and jobless industrial labor force. Yet all of Under Armour’s plants are located overseas, and no one at the company plans to move any of those jobs to its new Port Covington headquarters.

In his public outreach, Kevin Plank continues to claim that Under Armour remains committed long-term to Baltimore and the Port Covington project. His handshake agreements, vague promises, and hollow slogan, “We will build it together,” have enticed a few city residents.

But at a recent public hearing, Sagamore Development Corporation vice president, Caroline Paff, revealed Under Armour’s true colors on their future expansion.

“Development will happen here,” she not-so-subtly threatened, “or it will happen elsewhere.”

This sort of corporate strong-arming has become all too familiar in our modern age. Our contemporary urban development pits cities against one another, all to the benefit of a private corporate elite.

Instead of throwing our support behind large corporations that hold our cities hostage for subsidies and pledge allegiance only to shareholder bottom lines, we need to be investing in new sorts of participatory, community-driven development that circulates wealth back more widely throughout the local economy. And, in fact, Baltimore could learn some useful lessons from cities doing just that.

Cities elsewhere in the United States are now successfully building prosperity and a healthy tax base by encouraging cooperatively owned businesses and community-controlled housing. These cooperative enterprises are providing job opportunities in blighted communities often deemed too risky by traditional developers. Once up and running, they circulate money back into the local economy.

New York City has created a revolving loan fund that helps support new local businesses and gives them the tools they need to incorporate as worker-owned cooperatives. This fledgling new program has been so successful that the New York City Council has renewed and raised its funding.

Cleveland has developed what’s called an “anchor-institution strategy” that’s particularly relevant to Baltimore, a city with strong higher ed institutions — like Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland — committed to making an impact in their communities. Cleveland’s Evergreen Cooperative took root when local hospitals and universities agreed to help catalyze new industry and purchase — on an ongoing basis — products and services from local cooperative enterprises in their surrounding neighborhoods.

This commitment by Cleveland’s anchor institutions has won national acclaim and created stable, living-wage jobs in green industries for residents of deeply poor communities.

In Boston, the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative has transformed one of the city’s most blighted neighborhoods into a vibrant, stable, and active community with permanent affordable housing and services. The Baltimore Housing Roundtable’s 20/20 Vision is already working with communities throughout the city to adapt Dudley Street’s community land trust model.

Our cities are facing a crisis. We can continue business as usual and allow development to drive out current residents and make our cities accessible only to the most affluent. Or we can chart a new path of inclusive development that creates vibrant and sustainable urban spaces.

Are you listening, Baltimore City Council?

The post Under Armour Wants to Use Baltimore Tax Revenue Without Giving Back to the City appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Allie Busching is a New Economy Maryland Fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies.


California’s Cap and Trade Policy is Actually Working Against its Climate Action Targets


(Photo: Gerald Simmons / flickr)

California’s cap-and-trade scheme is in trouble. The latest carbon auction announced Aug. 23 failed to sell two-thirds of the available pollution permits, a third successive flop. That could leave a significant funding gap for other climate measures, such as weatherizing old homes, which are supposed to be paid for by revenue from these state-run auctions.

Tying the fate of important climate actions to the sale of carbon permits has snatched defeat from the jaws of a broader victory in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

And in a further blow to the credibility of cap and trade, it is regulations such as fuel-emission standards rather than the carbon market that is helping California meet its climate targets. In fact, perversely those same regulations are undermining the cap-and-trade market as they reduce the price of carbon by suppressing demand for the permits. California is bizarrely confronting the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced with policies that work against each other.

Read the full article on The Sacramento Bee’s website.

The post California’s Cap and Trade Policy is Actually Working Against its Climate Action Targets appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Oscar Reyes is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Our Current Political Order is on the Verge of Collapse

The history of political parties is rather boring. Not much has changed since the French Revolution, which produced the the terms “Left” and “Right” to reflect where people sat in the National Assembly. The early 20th century saw the rise of Communist parties on the far left. Shortly later, fascist parties began to emerge on the far right. Aside from these challenges from the margins, most countries have produced some version of a conservative (Christian Democrat, Republican) party and a liberal (Labor, Social Democratic) party. These parties have alternated in power, sometimes even ruling in coalition.

The one major innovation of the last 50 years has been the Green Party. Starting in Australia but achieving greatest prominence in Germany, Green parties have been both conservative (in terms of preserving the environment) and radical (in challenging economic orthodoxy). There are Green parties in 90 countries around the world. They have participated in several European governments. But they have not fully transformed politics. The traditional liberal and conservative parties have simply made a little room on the political spectrum for their Green colleagues.

Now, however, this stable political order seems on the verge of collapse.

All over the world, people in democratic societies have grown disgusted with politics as usual. The rise of Donald Trump, who has focused the anger of Americans at the elites in both major political parties, is mirrored by similar populist leaders elsewhere: Viktor Orban in Hungary, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Poland, Marine Le Pen in France, Nigel Farage in the UK, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Narendra Modi in India.

These leaders call themselves different things—left, right, socialist, nationalist. They also all function within democracies. But they all share one thing in common. They are “illiberal.”

Illiberal politicians are not very interested in civil liberties. They will manipulate the rule of law to “get things done.” They tend to appeal to religious or national identity rather than political ideology. They also generally favor greater state intervention in the economy.

In short, they defy the usual political categories.

If Donald Trump weren’t so personally unpopular and so tactically inept, he might be able to join the ranks of these successful illiberal leaders. Still, he has gotten as far as he has—seizing the nomination of a major political party—by articulating the same anger and resentment as the others.

Trump and the other illiberal populists have been benefiting from three overlapping backlashes.

The first is cultural. Movements for civil liberties have been remarkably successful over the last 40 years. Women, ethnic and religious minorities, and the LGBTQ community have secured important gains at a legal and cultural level. It is remarkable, for instance, how quickly same-sex marriage has become legal in more than 20 countries when no country recognized it before 2001.

Resistance has always existed to these movements to expand the realm of civil liberties. But this backlash increasingly has a political face. Thus the rise of parties that challenge multiculturalism and immigration in Europe, the movements throughout Africa and Asia that support the majority over the minorities, and the Trump/Tea Party takeover of the Republican Party with their appeals to primarily white men.

The second backlash is economic. The globalization of the economy has created a class of enormously wealthy individuals (in the financial, technology, and communications sectors). But globalization has left behind huge numbers of low-wage workers and those who have watched their jobs relocate to other countries.

Illiberal populists have directed all that anger on the part of people left behind by the world economy at a series of targets: bankers who make billions, corporations that are constantly looking for even lower-wage workers, immigrants who “take away our jobs,” and sometimes ethnic minorities who function as convenient scapegoats. The targets, in other words, include both the very powerful and the very weak.

The third backlash, and perhaps the most consequential, is political. It’s not just that people living in democracies are disgusted with their leaders and the parties they represent. Rather, as political scientists Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk write in the Journal of Democracy, “they have also become more cynical about the value of democracy as a political system, less hopeful that anything they do might influence public policy, and more willing to express support for authoritarian alternatives.”

Foa and Mounk are using 20 years of data collected from surveys of citizens in Western Europe and North America – the democracies with the greatest longevity. And they have found that support for illiberal alternatives is greater among the younger generation than the older one. In other countries outside Europe and North America, the disillusionment with democratic institutions often takes the form of a preference for a powerful leader who can break the rules if necessary to preserve order and stability – like Putin in Russia or Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt or Prayuth Chan-ocha in Thailand.

These three backlashes – cultural, economic, political – are also anti-internationalist because international institutions have become associated with the promotion of civil liberties and human rights, the greater globalization of the economy, and the constraint of the sovereignty of nations (for instance, through the European Union or the UN’s “responsibility to protect” doctrine).

The terrible irony is that the planet currently faces tremendous challenges – climate change, health pandemics, global inequality, Islamic State terrorism – that require greater internationalism to resolve. This should be the time when the disgust that people feel toward the political status quo gets channeled toward parties that pledge a much more urgent response to these global issues. Instead, the political focus is turning inward, becoming narrower and more parochial.

It’s not too late for a different kind of party to challenge the liberal-conservative political order. Such a party would prioritize the response to climate change. It would promote a sustainable economic system that doesn’t generate huge income inequality, consumer waste, and dubious public goods like warships and jet fighters. And it would embrace civil liberties and the rule of law while emphasizing the importance of civic engagement. It would speak to the disgust that people have with the political and economic status quo without shifting the blame onto the weak or retreating from the global challenges before us.

The current political order is coming apart. If we don’t come up with a fair, Green, and internationalist alternative, the illiberal populists will keep winning.

The post Our Current Political Order is on the Verge of Collapse appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

John Feffer directs Foreign Policy In Focus, a project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


We Can Reverse Generations of Racial Economic Inequality

Without a course correction, French economist Thomas Piketty warned, we are hurtling toward a grotesquely unequal future. A future governed by a hereditary aristocracy composed of the progeny of today’s billionaires.

In his assessment, however, Piketty overlooked the “peculiar institution” of our nation’s original sin. The color of what Piketty calls our “patrimonial capitalism” will be almost exclusively white.

Progress in race relations has done little to narrow the racial wealth divide. If average black wealth grows at the same rate it has over the last 30 years, it will take another 228 years before it equals the amount of wealth currently possessed by white households.

Read the full article on The Hill’s website.

The post We Can Reverse Generations of Racial Economic Inequality appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies. 
Dedrick Asante-Muhammed is the director of the Racial Wealth Divide Initiative at the Corporation for Enterprise Development.


New Dutch government brochure pushes importance of living wage

Fairfood is one of a number of NGOs that has been promoting the importance of a living wage (as opposed to a minimum wage) as a universal human right to ensure the workers who put food on our plate can live a dignified life and have enough money to provide for themselves and their families.

The Netherlands Enterprise Agency (Rijksdienst voor Ondernemend Nederland, RVO) has recently published its brochure ‘Paying a living wage: a guide for companies’,  a guide for companies active in developing countries in which they define a living wage, promote its benefits for companies, such as building reputation and brand value and offer a step-by-step guide for determining and implementing a living wage. They also highlight some best practices, such as the top-up bonus of Swedish clothing company Nudie who ensure the bonus they offer actually ends up on workers’ payslips. The RVO also grants loans to SMEs that are active in developing countries through the Dutch Good Growth Fund.

In recent years, there has been a growing wave of support for the importance of a living wage among governments, companies and NGOs. Fairfood applauds the Dutch government for pushing this a step further with its brochure. Let’s all make sure a living wage is the norm not the exception.



What’s Hiding in Trump’s Tax Returns?


(Photo: Heiko Kueverling / shutterstock)

Every day we get a new headline on Donald Trump, each one more bombastic than the last, as reporters attempt to keep up with his latest provocation. But which headline wont fade away as we near November? His tax returns.

Or more to the point, his lack thereof.

Every U.S. presidential candidate since 1976 has released their tax returns. It’s a simple and straightforward tradition, one that sheds light on a candidate’s decision-making in personal finances, business dealings, and contributions to society.

Perhaps that’s why Trump himself said in May 2014, “If I decide to run for office, I’ll produce my tax returns, absolutely, and I would love to do that.”

Fast forward two years later, he now says he won’t release them before November.

Hillary Clinton, having been in the public eye for decades in and out of public office, recently released her 2015 tax returns along with previous years’ full returns. Perhaps most surprising was that she paid an effective tax rate greater than 40 percent on her $ 10.7 million income, which is more than her upper class piers.

That level of income puts her family firmly in the top 1 percent, a group that on average pays an effective tax rate of just 24 percent despite the country’s top income tax rate of 39.6 percent. Mitt Romney, you may recall, paid just a 14 percent rate on his millions in income due to the loopholes he took advantage of.

Trump’s says he won’t turn over his returns because the IRS is auditing him. Like many of his claims, this doesn’t hold water. He could still legally release his returns while the IRS audits them, there’s no law barring him from doing that.

So why not do it?

Perhaps it’s because there could be a lot of newsworthy tidbits tucked into the hundreds of pages that make up Trump’s returns. Perhaps the most front-page worthy is that he likely doesn’t pay any taxes at all.

David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author of The Making of Donald Trump, explains that Trump’s taxes would put a spotlight on the arcane rules the wealthy take advantage of to lower their effective tax rates.

Trump likely has a number of tricks to avoid paying his fair share. Depreciation, for example, is a rule that allows filers to subtract the value of their properties from their income regardless of whether or not the property actually goes down in value. This could enable a rich landlord like Trump to avoid paying taxes nearly indefinitely.

As Johnston reports, “The big story in Trump’s tax returns is that Congress has created two income tax systems, separate and unequal.”

It’s worth acknowledging that just about everything regarding taxes is boring. Filing them, worrying about them, and talking about them are all a pretty good substitute for Ambien.

Yet a fair and just tax system is an essential part of our social contract —we can point to some vitally important aspects of our society made possible by tax revenue. And nowhere in that contract does it say “billionaires exempt.”

At least one Trump supporter, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, has said his support for the candidate rests on whether or not he releases his tax returns.

If more people take that pledge, we may see Mr. Trump change his position yet again. Either way, don’t expect his tax returns to fade from the public discussion as election day draws near.

The post What’s Hiding in Trump’s Tax Returns? appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Opportunity and Taxation at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Statement on Texas Judge’s Ruling Against Trans-inclusive Obama Directive

Statement from Karen Dolan, IPS expert on disparate treatment of transgender youth in public schools and juvenile justice systems:

“I am sickened and saddened by the discriminatory ruling by Texas federal judge Reed O’Connor granting a temporary injunction against the implementation of the landmark guidance issued by the Obama Administration this spring. This guidance called on U.S. public schools to recognize the civil and human rights of their transgender students.

As I wrote in an earlier piece, the Obama administration got it right on transgender rights, and the discriminatory ignorance driving today’s ruling attempting to turn back progress, gets it absolutely wrong.

I have a family member who is a student that falls under the LGBTQ umbrella. She has experienced both an unwelcoming school environment and a welcoming school environment. She thrives in the latter and the school itself appears to benefit from the diversity.

For the sake of our children born with a gender identity that doesn’t exactly match the gender assigned to them at birth, a halting of the implementation of guidelines that facilitate respect for their humanity and human rights is abusive and dangerous.   A policy that forbids governmental discrimination based on gender is affirming and necessary.

Transgender people who don’t experience support and acceptance have staggering suicide attempt rates, but match the general population when support is present. And not only do the children themselves benefit from the support and acceptance, but studies show that schools which support LGBTQ students see benefits for all students in those schools.

Speak up against discrimination in your own school districts. Demand that the Obama directive to respect the dignity and human rights of transgender students is implemented. We are all better off for it.”

Karen Dolan is the director of the Criminaliztion of Race and Poverty project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Read her recent article Gender Explained: How the Obama Administration is Getting It Right on Gender Identity.

Media Contact:

Karen Dolan, karen@ips-dc.org, 202.234.9382 x 5228

The post Statement on Texas Judge’s Ruling Against Trans-inclusive Obama Directive appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Karen Dolan directs the Criminalization of Race and Poverty project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Saudi Arabia is Using U.S. Weapons to Kill Yemeni Civilians

Fighting in Yemen is back in full-scale after UN peace talks broke down last week. “We should be clear that this is very one-sided fighting,” Phyllis Bennis told the Real News Network.

Saudi Arabia is moving against the Houthis who have loose ties to Iran, the regime’s competition for hegemony in the region, Bennis explained. But it’s not Saudi or Iranian leaders who are paying the price, Bennis said, “It’s ordinary Yemenis—a huge percentage have been children.”

Sixty percent of those children have been killed by Saudis, Bennis said, “that’s using our weapons, our planes, our bombs.”

That’s why Bennis said she doesn’t find it surprising that more than 80 percent of Yemenis see the United States as an enemy. Yet, the U.S. continues to provide arms to the Saudi regime, the latest deal worth $ 1.15 billion.

“The Saudis are by far the largest purchasers of weapons from the United States’ arms industry,” Bennis said. And ever since the Iran nuclear deal, the Obama administration “has been very concerned about making sure the Saudi authorities are pacified.”

When asked if she thinks the United States has chosen to stay silent about Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations because it could be keeping Al-Qaeda at bay, Bennis said “They’re going after hospitals, markets, schools. They’re not going after Al-Qaeda.”

The post Saudi Arabia is Using U.S. Weapons to Kill Yemeni Civilians appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


We Can Save Maryland From Climate Change Without Hurting the Economy


Storm surge flooding caused by Hurricane Isabel in Bowleys Quarters, Maryland. (Photo: WIkipedia)

Even as this year’s general election heats up, it’s the climate that’s really getting hot. July was the hottest month ever recorded, and the 10th straight month to break record temperatures, according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. And 2016 is well on its way to surpassing 2015 as the hottest year ever recorded.

While we can’t predict the outcome of November’s election, we can easily predict the consequences of climate inaction.

Maryland will be hit especially hard, as the Chesapeake region’s receding coastline makes it more vulnerable to flooding. While the U.S. has experienced about 6 inches of sea level rise over the past 100 years, Maryland has experienced a foot. This rate will increase in the absence of significant intervention, with an additional two-foot rise likely by 2050. Such a rise in sea level will make extreme floods like the recent tragedy in Ellicott City more likely.

Read the full article on The Baltimore Sun’s website.

The post We Can Save Maryland From Climate Change Without Hurting the Economy appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Taylor Smith-Hams is a New Economy Maryland fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Trump is Calling for a Return to McCarthy-Era Repression

What Trump is really calling for when he talks about establishing a commission on radical Islam is a return of the House Un-American Activities Committee, Phyllis Bennis told Democracy Now! in reference to his latest speech in Ohio. HUAC was so infamously involved in destroying people’s lives with false allegations of being members of the Communist Party, Bennis explained.

Trump talked about implementing an ideological screening test for immigrants.

“It’s as if he’s asserting the value of extremism as the reason people should support his candidacy,” Bennis said. “Because he’s an extremist.

The post Trump is Calling for a Return to McCarthy-Era Repression appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.