Clearly, state lawmakers are not asking the right questions when Comcast comes to the Capitol, as became apparent when the cable giant announced it was shutting its California call centers and eliminating 1,000 California jobs.
The reason, it said, was the high cost of doing business in California, eliciting howls from politicians. After being scolded by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Gov. Jerry Brown's jobs czar, Comcast retracted its statement, muddying its true reasons.
That said, Comcast gets plenty from lawmakers. In 2010, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a budget that included what came to be known as the Comcast provision, essentially a tax break.
In this session, the Legislature approved a bill to extend California's film tax credit, a $200 million break to encourage production to remain in the state. If Brown signs the bill, Comcast subsidiary NBC-Universal surely will benefit.
On the Nov. 6 ballot, Californians will decide whether to approve Proposition 39. The Bee endorses the initiative, which would repeal a $1 billion tax break for companies that sell heavily into the state but have most of their employees and property outside California.
Comcast, which is headquartered in Philadelphia, would see its California taxes go up if voters approve the measure. But even if voters approve this initiative, Comcast stands to get a special deal.
Proposition 39's authors copied language from a stalled bill that sought to repeal the $1 billion break for out-of-state companies. The bill and Proposition 39 contain provisions granting companies such as Comcast an estimated $38 million-a-year break, so long as they invest $250 million a year in the state.
Comcast may have decided to bolt because of California's taxes and regulations. But at about the time that Comcast was announcing that it was shutting its California call centers, the Los Angeles City Planning Commission approved a $1.6 billion expansion by Comcast subsidiary NBC-Universal in the San Fernando Valley.
Although Comcast saw a business reason to leave, Advanced Call Center Technologies is opening a new call center in North Highlands and ultimately expects to provide 2,000 jobs. In announcing the new center, the company noted that this region competed against cities in four other states Kansas, Florida, Wisconsin and Missouri none of which are known for their anti-business attitudes. We hope the workers whom Comcast dumps find better jobs with Advanced Call Center.
Comcast is hardly a victim. It's a $55.8 billion corporation that dominates the lucrative Northern California cable market, thanks to agreements with the California Public Utilities Commission.
Comcast and the cable trade association that represents its interests know how to play the political game. The company and the trade group spent more than $1.1 million on lobbying in an 18-month period ending in June.
Comcast lobbied on no fewer than 27 bills this year. The bills included ones giving tax breaks and reducing regulations. It might not have won all its battles. But the company usually gets what it wants from the Legislature. On Friday, Brown signed a bill that ensures California will not regulate a type of phone service called voice over Internet protocol, a measure that will benefit Comcast.
Comcast will come to the Legislature again seeking more plums; it always does. But before they agree, as they surely will, legislators should ask no fewer than 1,000 questions. They should ask Comcast what became of each of the 1,000 call center employees it tossed aside.