When it comes to government contracts, we like to say that the devil is in the details. Well, the same can be said about corporate subsidies.

Take Georgia’s new big, shiny $1.8 billion factory deal with South Korean automaker Hyundai. The state’s republican governor Brian Kemp is making it sound like a win-win for all involved.

“We are proud to welcome Hyundai Motor Group to Georgia as we forge an innovative future together,” Kemp said in a press release. “We will continue working to make Georgia the premier destination for quality companies who are creating the jobs of today, tomorrow, and beyond.”

But when you actually look at the terms of the deal—which is the largest subsidy package for an automotive plant ever in the U.S.—your head can’t help but hurt. There’s a reason Georgia officials wouldn’t reveal what incentives Hyundai had been promised until after the agreement was signed.

Here they are:

  • Local governments are giving Hyundai more than $472 million in property tax breaks.
  • The company will also receive more than $212 million in state corporate income tax credits. (Get this: If Hyundai doesn’t end up owing that much in state income tax, Georgia will instead give the company personal income taxes collected from the company’s workers.)
  • The state and local governments spent $86 million to purchase the plant site
  • Georgia will spend $200 million on road construction and improvements, plus $50 million more to help fund construction, machinery, and equipment.
  • Sales tax exemptions on construction materials and machinery expenses are estimated to cost $396 million.
  • All in all, Georgia and four counties will be giving Hyundai about $228,000 per job created.

But that’s not the half of it. Good Jobs First, a nonprofit that promotes corporate and government accountability in economic development (and which has a new, slick website!), blasted a similar but smaller deal Georgia made with another automaker back in May.

Here’s what they said that deal would mean for Georgia’s residents:

  • It will cause upward pressure on local property tax rates.
  • Local public services, like schools, roads, and water systems, will be financially stressed.
  • The deal could take precious funding from Georgia’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Covid relief money.

This all raises the question: Why do state and local governments keep giving away corporate subsidies?

The answer is, we live in a time when the private sector is trusted more than the government—when corporations are said to be more efficient, more innovative, less bureaucratic, less corrupt than public institutions.

This, of course, is a result of a concerted decades-long effort by corporate leaders, conservative think tanks, and right-wing pundits to undermine public institutions. Right-wing forces have effectively taken advantage of real failures of government action while steadily capturing control of public institutions and popular conventional wisdom that has led to more failure and greater distrust.

Until we face this truth, and until we work together to build trust in public institutions, these sorts of deals will continue—even if the facts blatantly say they are straight-up boondoggles.

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