Saturday, July 12, 2008

Why Libertarian T. J. Rohr deserves to be in the North Carolina General Assembly

Recently I posted about local news coverage of Lenoir City Councilman T. J. Rohr's campaign for North Carolina House District 87 against long-time incumbent Ed Starnes. I mentioned in particular that Rohr had something going for him that few Libertarian candidates can claim: a record as an incumbent in his own right.

To be honest, I didn't know much about that record at the time, but with a little research, it's amazing what you sometimes find--like the fact that T. J. was the only person on the Lenoir City Council to realize that the town was about to be taken to the cleaners by Google.

From [by Zach Patton]:

The small city of Lenoir, North Carolina, is more High Country than high tech. Snuggled against the Blue Ridge foothills 70 miles northwest of Charlotte, Lenoir lost most of the textile and furniture plants that employed its residents for much of the 20th century. So when Google recently came to Lenoir looking for a site to build a new data-storage facility, local and state officials were eager to accommodate. They offered the Internet giant a tax-incentive package worth a staggering $260 million. In January, Google accepted the deal.

It sounds like any city’s economic development dream: A fast-growing company, one that is defining the second Internet boom, plants a massive $600 million facility in your backyard. But it’s doubtful that the city of Lenoir and the state of North Carolina will see much direct return from that investment. That’s because the generous property tax abatements they gave Google last for 30 years. Moreover, only about 200 people will work there, mostly administrators and technicians. Google will pocket state and local subsidies worth more than $1.2 million per job....

Cities and states are eager to capture a piece of this Internet industry. What they’re finding, however, is that this part of the “new” economy doesn’t look so different from the old one. Like any manufacturing plant, server farms require massive amounts of power. A mid-sized server farm built a bit larger than a typical Costco consumes as much electricity as the Sears Tower. Not only do governments need to ensure that there’s enough electric capacity available, they also must wrestle with the environmental consequences of their power choices....

If server farms drain electricity and don’t provide that many jobs, why are states and localities scrambling to attract them? Lenoir’s leaders believe that Google’s cachet will draw more technology firms to town. T.J. Rohr, the only city councilman to vote against the tax incentives, hopes that’s true. But he doesn’t think the generous package was worth it. “We probably could have driven a better bargain,” Rohr says, noting that he’s philosophically opposed to tax incentives of any kind. “I don’t have any problem with Google. Who could? Who would? But Google didn’t come here because of our incentives. They came here because there’s cheap land and cheap electricity.”

You can find T. J.'s own, more detailed explanation here.

The only man smart enough to vote to turn Google down might make one hell of a campaign slogan, huh?

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