Christine Wen leads the work on defending public goods against corporate tax breaks at Good Jobs First, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. Her current research focuses on the impact of property tax abatements on K-12 educational funding adequacy and progressivity. She also actively works to promote local government transparency in tax spending. Her many projects have furthered collaboration and engagement with unions, journalists, policy organizations, government officials, and academics.
Christine received her Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from Cornell University in August 2019. Supported by nine different fellowships and grants, her dissertation examines the urban integration of rural migrants in China, bridging scholarship from international development, migration, critical geography, citizenship, and education. She also completed a side project building a database of all local government tax and expenditure limits in the U.S. and quantifying their "intensity." During this time, she worked as a teaching assistant at Cornell University for courses on American planning practice, global cities, and statistics.
While completing her master's degree in urban planning at Columbia University, she spent a year conducting research at the Earth Institute on the impact of climate on U.S. groundwater levels and trends since the 1930s. Prior to that, she spent two summers working for the cosmic microwave background radiation group at Princeton University while completing a bachelor's degree in physics there. And before that, at age 15, she received the professional performer's dlploma (ARCT) from the Canadian Royal Conservatory of Music--first-class honors with distinctions.
Christine hails from Vancouver, Canada. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, writing creatively, playing the piano, cooking, thrifting, boating, and roaming the woods with her 80-lb boxer-mix dog.
HOW ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT TAX ABATEMENTS CONSTRAIN K-12 EDUCATION
No one can deny that an educated workforce is critical to economic development. Yet many economic development policies ignore or even undermine education. Tax abatements, in particular, impose a cost on school districts because they result in foregone revenue for schools. Even if the state reimburses this loss, that just means the cost is spread out over everyone. And if tax abatements do result in economic growth, the influx of students can cause great strain for school budgets if the revenues needed to support the new students aren't there. Academic research on the impact of tax abatements on school finance is scant. This is likely due to the previous lack of data: Tax spending is opaque in many places to begin with, and school revenues are often given away by counties and municipalities. Fortunately, the staffers at Good Jobs First not only championed for and won an accounting rule that mandates disclosure of tax abatements by jurisdiction, but also collected and published the 2019 foregone revenue data for all U.S. school districts. This research avails of the incredible resource from Good Jobs First to study the impact of tax abatements on K-12 educational funding effort, adequacy, and progressivity, as well as other indicators of educational quality.
EDUCATING RURAL MIGRANT CHILDREN IN INTERIOR CHINA
One key feature of urbanization in contemporary China is the exclusion of rural migrants from certain basic urban services. To this day, about two million migrant children are still denied access to urban public schools. This exclusion has resulted in the proliferation of low-fee private schools in China's cities that almost exclusively serve rural migrant children. Scholars disagree on the extent to which low-fee private schools can adequately supply education to poor children in developing countries. Some argue that they are a market-based, community-led solution to government failure and provide low-income families with more alternatives. Others maintain that inadequate funding and regulation prevent these private schools from providing quality education. This research contributes to the debate with a qualitative study in China where privatization of education intersects with rural-urban migration. It relies on the grounded theory approach to examine how low-fee private schools aid or hinder migrant children’s settlement and integration in the host city. Fieldwork in the country’s interior region reveals that migrant schools are oriented toward meeting the immediate needs of migrant families but do so at the cost of children’s future prospects and thus perpetuate urban inequality.
PUTTING DOWN ROOTS: URBAN HOMEOWNERSHIP AMONG CHINA'S MIGRANTS
For the past few years, China’s urbanization policy has focused on expanding social provisions for rural migrants so as to encourage them to put down roots in the city. There are two dominant theories in the international literature on the relationship between housing ownership and welfare access. One suggests a substitution effect wherein housing purchase constitutes a form of security that makes up for the lack of access to welfare. The other, from immigration studies, suggests that integration in the form of gaining access to social security in the host society encourages housing purchase. Using national survey data, this research explores the determinants of housing ownership among China’s rural migrant households in their city of residence, focusing particularly on access to urban social insurance. The results show that institutional ties to the city such as enrollment in local pensions and health insurance as well as families staying united are associated with a higher likelihood of homeownership. This suggests that rural migrants might be more willing to purchase homes if the risk and precarity they typically experience are lowered. To make urbanization more sustainable, the government should aim at making cities more family-friendly and expanding alternatives to employment-based social insurance schemes.
TAX CAPS AND THEIR IMPACT ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT REVENUE IN THE U.S.
Almost all U.S. state governments impose some form of tax and expenditure limits (TELs) on their local governments. These can restrict how (and how much) cities, counties, and school districts raise their revenues. For this research, we built a 50-state database of all local TELs and created a measure for their severity or stringency. This measure can be disaggregated by the type of tax limitation (rate limit, levy ceiling, total expenditure, assessment increase, etc.), by attributes (magnitude, exclusions, and override provisions), and by the type of government (county, municipality, and school district). We then tested the impact of TELs on local governments' revenue structures and found that more stringent TELs restrict counties' overall revenues and force cities to shift to alternative, often more regressive, revenue sources as well as incur more debt. State aid mostly does not make up the difference. These findings are troubling as counties provide many critical social services. This research suggests that states need to tailor their tax caps to local conditions.
GROUNDWATER RESOURCES IN THE U.S. AND THEIR MANAGEMENT
Groundwater is an important natural resource that poses challenges to governance. This research investigates the spatial and temporal patterns in groundwater and investigates the relationship between its levels and extraction rates, precipitation anomalies, and climate cycles. Wells across the continental U.S. are clustered by their long-term trends and mapped. The results show alarming widespread declines in groundwater levels, particularly the central and southern Ogallala aquifer, lower Mississippi basin, the southeast basin, and the Atlantic Coastal Plain. Deeper wells tend to have greater relative declines, possibly because they take longer to recharge. Overall, groundwater is sensitive to extraction and long-term climate cycle, particularly the Pacific decadal oscillations. Case studies of California and Nevada are used to supplement these findings, as they represent contrasting localized and centralized groundwater management, respectively. These show that more fragmented governance as is the case of California is linked to spatial unevenness in groundwater trends as well as data collection frequency, suggesting the need for greater state oversight.
Connor Rigney and Christine Wen. "NY school boards needn't be powerless against corporate tax breaks." The Post-Standard.
Christine Wen and Arlene Martínez. "Opinion: Black and Brown students pay for this tax break. Texas should not extend it." The Houston Chronicle.
Christine Wen, Katie Furtado, and Greg LeRoy. Abating Our Future: How Students Pay for Corporate Tax Breaks. Good Jobs First.
John Mozena and Christine Wen. "Opinion: How economic development is killing Michigan school funding." The Detroit News.
Christine Wen. 2020. "Educating rural migrant children in interior China: The promise and pitfall of low-fee private schools." International Journal of Educational Development 79.
Christine Wen, Kasia Tarczynska, and Greg LeRoy. "The revenue impact of corporate tax incentives on South Carolina Public Schools."
Christine Wen, Yuanshuo Xu, Yunji Kim, and Mildred Warner. 2020. "Starving counties, squeezing cities: Tax and expenditure limits in the U.S." Journal of Economic Policy Reform 23 (2), 101-119.
Christine Wen. Putting Pension Costs in Context: How Corporate Tax Breaks are Diverting State Revenue Needed for Public Employees' Retirement.
Christine Wen, Greg LeRoy, Kasia Tarczynska, and Gabriel Mielke. "Mapping Amazon.com: Where the online giant locates its warehouses and why."
Christine Wen and Jeremy Wallace. 2019. "Toward human-centered urbanization? Housing ownership and access to social insurance among migrant households in China." Sustainability 11 (13), 3567-3581.
Christine Wen. Review of Eggleston, K., Jean Oi, and Yiming Wang (eds.) Challenges in the Process of China's Urbanization. Stanford, CA: Shorenstein APARC. Pacific Affairs Review 91:2.
Hector Chang and Christine Wen. "Tax caps in other states: Lessons for New York."
Upmanu Lall, Tess Russo, Christine Wen, and Mary Williams. "The impact of climate change on U.S. groundwater systems."
Christine Wen, Mary Williams, Christopher Economides, and Nelson Dove. "Assessment of water resources, green infrastructure, and utility rates in San Diego County."
Written for Good Jobs First (GJF)
"Tax abatements in context #1: South Carolina's poor pay more"
"The method and madness behind Abating Our Future" (with Katie Furtado)
"Sunshine Week: How corporate subsidies harm our youngest community members" (with Katie Furtado)
"South Carolina public schools lost $423 million to corporate tax breaks in FY 2019"
"These states are missing a lot of tax-break disclosure data--is it non-compliance?"
"Nine common reasons governments decline to provide tax abatement disclosures."
"Disclosing tax revenue lost to corporate welfare: Are local governments backsliding on compliance?"
"State and local GASB 77 tax abatement disclosures for FY 18 & FY 19: Known spending rises, compliance still uneven"
January 2022 (upcoming)
"How tax incentives constrain K-12 education (teaching ratios and teachers' salaries)." To be delivered at the Labor and Employment Relations Association (LERA) Conference in Boston, Massachusetts
October 2021 (upcoming)
"Making the students pay? The impact of tax incentives on educational funding adequacy and equity." To be delivered at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP) Annual Conference in Miami, Florida.
Interview with America's Work Force (AWF) Union Podcast on new report "Abating our future: How students pay for corporate tax breaks"
Interview with In the Public Interest (ITPI) on "Corporate subsidies not only rarely work, but they're also starving public schools"
Interview with the Sanctuary for Independent Media, Hudson Mohawk Radio Network on how "Corporate tax breaks hurt schools"
"Using the Tax Break Tracker." Delivered virtually at the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) Conference.
"Public subsidy research in union organizing." Delivered at the AFL-CIO Strategic Training for Intermediate/Advanced Researchers in Silver Springs, Maryland.
"Migrant housing ownership in urban China: Evidence from survey data." Delivered at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP) Annual Conference in Buffalo, New York.
"Development, education, and the urban integration of rural migrants in interior China." Delivered at the 2018 International Conference of China Urban Development in Glasgow, U.K.
"Linking fiscal stress and social equity: A municipal toolbox." Delivered at the New York State City Managers Association (NYSCMA) Annual Conference in Ithaca, New York.
"Development, education, and the urban integration of rural migrants in interior China." Delivered at the Urban Affairs Association (UAA) Annual Conference in Toronto, Canada.
"Development, education, and the urban integration of rural migrants in interior China." Delivered at the Cornell Contemporary China Initiative Student Symposium "China in Transition" in Ithaca, New York.
"Engineering urbanization and growth in China's poor periphery." Delivered at the Association of American Geographers (AAG) Annual Conference in Boston, Massachusetts.
"Urbanization as development: Understanding China's new growth strategy." Delivered at the Association of American Geographers (AAG) Annual Conference in San Francisco, California.
"Restrictiveness of TEL (tax and expenditure limits) and impact on local fiscal stress." Delivered at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP) Annual Conference in Houston, Texas
"New York property tax cap: Implications for local fiscal health." Delivered at the 2014 Conference "Local Fiscal Stress: State: State Austerity Policy and Creative Local Response" in Saratoga Springs, New York.
June 2019 - present
PROJECT COORDINATOR AT GOOD JOBS FIRST
PH.D. IN CITY AND REGIONAL PLANNING || CORNELL UNIVERSITY
M.S. IN URBAN PLANNING || COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY
A.B. IN PHYSICS || PRINCETON UNIVERSITY
CORNELL UNIVERSITY C.V. STARR FELLOWSHIP ($21,620)
CORNELL UNIVERSITY EAST ASIA PROGRAM TRAVEL GRANT ($1,250)
INSTITUTE FOR THE SOCIAL SCIENCES RESEARCH TRAVEL GRANT ($2,000)
CORNELL UNIVERSITY RESEARCH TRAVEL GRANT ($2,000)
CORNELL UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENTAL RESEARCH TRAVEL GRANT ($1,500)
VARIOUS CORNELL UNIVERSITY CONFERENCE TRAVEL GRANTS ($1,315)
QUOTED IN MINNPOST: "THERE'S LITTLE EVIDENCE THAT FILM AND TV TAX CREDITS WORK. WHY MINNESOTA LAWMAKERS FUNDED A NEW ONE ANYWAY. CLICK HERE TO READ.
QUOTED IN CHALKBEAT PHILADELPHIA: "REPORT STATING PHILADELPHIA SCHOOLS LOSE $112 MILLION A YEAR TO TAX BREAKS IS INCOMPLETE, CITY SAYS" CLICK HERE TO READ.
QUOTED IN THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: "PHILLY SCHOOLS LOSE MORE MONEY TO TAX BREAKS THAN ANY DISTRICT IN THE COUNTRY, A NEW REPORT SAYS." CLICK HERE TO READ.
QUOTED IN BLOOMBERG CITYLAB: "WHAT CORPORATE TAX BREAKS MEAN FOR SCHOOL FUNDING." CLICK HERE TO READ.
LEAD-AUTHOR REPORT FEATURED IN WCSC LIVE 5 NEWS INTERVIEW WITH THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF GOOD JOBS FIRST
LEAD-AUTHOR REPORT FEATURED IN "COSTLY CORPORATE TAX BREAKS ARE TAKING AWAY MONEY TO IMPROVE SOUTH CAROLINA'S SCHOOLS" BY KENDALL DEAS IN THE STATE. CLICK HERE TO READ.
LEAD-AUTHOR REPORT FEATURED IN "TRACKING THE ELUSIVE TAX DODGE" BY PAUL BOWERS IN BRUTAL SOUTH. CLICK HERE TO READ.
LEAD-AUTHOR STORYMAP FEATURED IN "WHY ARE LOCAL GOVERNMENTS PAYING AMAZON TO DESTROY MAIN STREET IN FORTUNE. CLICK HERE TO READ.
CORNELL CRP 5450: INFERENTIAL STATISTICS FOR PLANNING AND PUBLIC POLICY
CORNELL CRP 5450: INFERENTIAL STATISTICS FOR PLANNING AND PUBLIC POLICY
CORNELL CRP 5450: INFERENTIAL STATISTICS FOR PLANNING AND PUBLIC POLICY
CORNELL CRP 1101: THE GLOBAL CITY
CORNELL CRP 2000: THE PROMISES AND PITFALLS OF CONTEMPORARY PLANNING
September 2018 - May 2019
CORNELL UNIVERSITY EAST ASIA PROGRAM (ENVIRONMENT, URBANIZATION)
June 2016 - May 2019
CORNELL UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF INDUSTRIAL AND LABOR RELATIONS (URBANIZATION, MIGRATION)
June 2015 - December 2015
CORNELL UNIVERSITY COMMUNITY AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT INSTITUTE (PUBLIC FINANCE, TAX POLICY)
June 2013 - May 2014
THE EARTH INSTITUTE AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY (WATER, SUSTAINABILITY)
September 2012 - December 2013
COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT OF URBAN PLANNING (POVERTY REDUCTION, NEIGHBORHOOD CHANGE)
ARCGIS, STATA, MATLAB, ATLAS.TI, IMPLAN
CURRENTLY STUDYING R. COMPLETED UNDERGRADUATE COURSEWORK IN JAVA, C, C++, AND ASSEMBLY LANGUAGE
ENGLISH; CHINESE MANDARIN
Completed college advanced reading coursework in
Completed Canadian Grade 12 coursework in
AMERICAN PLANNING ASSOCIATION
Professional Ally of
CANADIAN INSTITUTE OF PLANNERS
LABOR AND EMPLOYMENT RELATIONS ASSOCIATION