Boston Herald: Tug of War Over TJX

March 12, 2012

Framingham wants to remain the primary headquarters for TJX Cos., which has reached a tentative tax-break deal to relocate 1,600 employees to Marlboro.

“The town is engaged in ongoing discussions with TJX senior management and the property owners, Campanelli Brothers, to maintain their major campus at their current 770 Cochituate Road, Framingham site,” Valerie Mulvey, Framingham’s interim town manager, said in a statement. “We believe TJX will recognize the significant value of being in a world-class location in Framingham along with our other major corporate headquarters, including Bose, Staples, Genzyme and Cumberland Gulf Group.”

Under a proposed 20-year agreement that would give TJX a big break on property taxes, the off-price retailer would move 1,600 employees from offices at 500 Old Connecticut Path in Framingham and Westboro to two buildings it plans to buy at 300 and 400 Puritan Way in Marlboro.

Marlboro Mayor Arthur Vigeant, who drafted the preliminary agreement with TJX, said there was no “ultimatum” from TJX that its move would be contingent on the tax breaks. The concessions were warranted, he said, to fill the more than 700,000 square feet of office space being vacated by Fidelity Investments.

“I want to have a competitive tax rate so that we could encourage them to come over here,” Vigeant said, noting the influx of workers would spend money in the city’s restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations.

Vigeant characterized the TJX jobs as “1,600 jobs for my residents.” When it was pointed out that the jobs were merely being relocated from other towns, he said, “they’re not helping me in Marlboro.”

TJX, headed by Carol Meyrowitz, has said it may move all or a portion of its Framingham headquarters.

That kind of one-upmanship between communities is one reason why tax-increment financing, or TIF, deals are problematic, said Deirdre Cummings, legislative director for the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group.

“The last thing we want to be doing is pitting one community against another,” she said. “Everybody feels like they just have to throw money at them just to compete, and the taxpayer loses in that scenario. There is absolutely no data and process by which we can evaluate whether or not these TIFs are successful in creating and maintaining jobs.”

The Marlboro City Council should take a close look at the proposed agreement, said state Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), a skeptic of tax breaks for corporations, particularly when they involve a company just moving from one community to another.

“We provide over $20 billion in tax breaks, and many of them go to large corporations, which are actually now more profitable than ever,” he said. “There’s a touch of irony here, because Fidelity was the recipient of very large tax breaks and yet, over the last 10 years, they have effectively moved most of their workforce out of state.”

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