It's hard to resent, in principle, using federal tax money to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina rebuild their shattered communities.
But Mississippi wants to earmark $240 million in hurricane-related federal tax breaks to persuade a Korean automaker to build an assembly plant in a town that Katrina barely mussed. That's a different matter - and it's wrong.
The federal breaks are part of a nearly $1 billion package of incentives that Mississippi is dangling before Kia to build its plant in the town of Columbus. Katrina wrecked about a dozen homes in Columbus last August when it struck the Gulf Coast 225 miles to the south.
Mississippi's bundle of tax incentives is four times as large as the generous incentives that neighboring Alabama gave to Mercedes and to Hyundai to build plants in that state within the past decade.
Despite Mississippi's offer, Kia now favors locating its plant in Georgia.
Mississippi officials say Kia's plant would employ 2,000 to 2,500 workers and would generate more jobs as suppliers move to the area. But each of those plant jobs would cost Mississippi as much as $500,000 in tax breaks and other incentives.
Is that the best use of scarce public money, especially in a chronically poor state that last year's disaster has devastated further?
Don't blame Kia for pitting states against each other to get the best possible deal. Any rational automaker, import or domestic, would do the same. And many have.
But it's time to re-examine the "Can you top this?" competition among states to offer big incentives to automakers. States say they must compete to attract good jobs that otherwise would go to other states or countries. That assertion demands strict scrutiny.
The U.S. Supreme Court is examining Ohio's decision to give $280 million in incentives to DaimlerChrysler to build its new Jeep plant in Toledo. With luck, the high court's review of the case will restore some sanity to the incentives war between the states.