Keller @ Large: What A Waste 2017 Updates

They’re the kind of stories that make you shake your head and say – what a waste. And all year long, we’ve been bringing you stories of questionable use of your tax dollars at the federal and local level. Here are updates on three of our 2017 “What a Waste” reports:

“It’s Christmas times a thousand!” said an ebullient Raiders fan in Nevada last March when the NFL approved the move of the Oakland-based franchise to Las Vegas. And the owners of the gleaming new $1.9 billion dollar stadium they’ll play in can relate to the Christmas theme. Their football palace is being subsidized by more than $600 million in public funds under a loophole in the tax laws that for decades has been allowing wealthy pro-sports team owners to access billions worth of tax-exempt municipal bonds otherwise reserved for public infrastructure projects.

UPDATE: the language could still change, but both the House and Senate GOP tax-reform plans reportedly bring an end to this sweetheart deal, and its removal is drawing bipartisan support. However, the change has drawn one high-profile critic: the NFL.

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“This was a sweetheart deal” said Sen. Ed Markey in October as he denounced the $300 million contract to repair Puerto Rico’s devastated electrical grid awarded to obscure Montana company Whitefish Energy, a firm with ties to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke but no experience with a job this size. (Zinke, who lives in the company’s hometown and whose son had a summer job with Whitefish, denied any wrongdoing.)

UPDATE: The Whitefish contract was cancelled in late October after intense public outcry. Documents released Monday by congressional investigators show Whitefish was charging taxpayers double what it was paying its subcontractors. And the ultimate bottom line: seven weeks after Hurricane Maria hammered the island, more than 50 percent of the grid is still offline.

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“They’re like a Fortune 500 company and, in my opinion, they should be taxed like a Fortune 500 company,” State Rep. David Nangle (D-Lowell) told us in May about his bill to force wealthy non-profits to pay more of the bill for the public services they benefit from.
The bill had its public hearing before the Committee on Taxation in June, drawing fire from lobbyists for social-service non-profits like the YMCA, even though they conceded the bill’s language limiting its scope to non-profits where the top five salaried executives earn more than $2.5 million a year would mean it wouldn’t apply to them.

UPDATE: This is Beacon Hill, where change comes slowly if at all. Five months later, the Revenue Committee has yet to vote on Nangle’s bill, and no action seems likely until the new year.

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