The majority of the news cycle has been absorbed into the 2020 presidential primary race between multiple Democratic Party candidates and the re-election campaign of President Donald Trump. However, news related to Google has floated under the radar.
Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported that Google has secretly negotiated friendly deals with small towns and states, leveraging the promise of data center jobs in exchange for favorable utility rates and agreements. Its headline read, “When Big Tech Goes Green, Taxpayers Help Foot the Bill.”
But none of the major mainstream media outlets picked up Bloomberg’s report.
Google pledged $600 million for a data center in the small Minnesota town of Becker, which is northwest of Minneapolis and has a population of 4,500 people. The tech giant also promised 50 full-time jobs for the automated data center, but it was able to secure two promises from Becker officials and Xcel utility officials: a twenty-year exemption from local and county taxes (worth at least $14 million) and a ten-year discount on electricity bills from Xcel.
Xcel later announced that it would close Becker’s coal plant earlier than expected, which could affect Becker’s tax base and tax revenue. Meaning, with a major employer gone, local residents and business will continue subsidizing the electricity bills of a multi-billion multi-national corporation’s data center while the town could struggle to stay afloat. The Becker taxpayer, and also the county taxpayer, will be footing the utility bill for Google.
Adding to the concessions, Google’s identity in the negotiations was hidden, only referred to as a “large commercial and industrial customer” in a filing by Xcel related to Google’s demands for utility rate discounts. Bloomberg also noted that Facebook operates in a similar fashion. Facebook built a data center in Altoona, Iowa, but its name was revealed to the local public 12 minutes before the city council approved $40 million in tax breaks for Facebook.
Similar to the Amazon HQ2 and Apple negotiations with cities and states across the country between 2017 and 2018, smalltown taxpayers like those in Becker face added expenses or taxes due to secret deals negotiated with wealthy corporations. These secret deals were negotiated without public notification or input and further burden the American taxpayer. These deals do not allow the public to have adequate time to rebut the proposals or review them. Local public officials, along with Big Tech representatives, should be more transparent about its deals like the one with Becker.