A worker gathers items for delivery from the warehouse floor at Amazon's distribution center in Phoenix, Nov. 22, 2013. Reuters

Amazon.com may have just been smacked with a $293 million fine from the European Union for tax obligations to Luxembourg, but back home in the U.S., it’s far from alone in shrinking its effective tax rate by racking up state subsidies and credits — as those same states struggle to keep their public pension funds afloat.

A study released Wednesday by the advocacy group Good Jobs First and the National Public Pension Coalition spotlighted the connection between those two fiscal issues. Among a dozen states where the costs of providing public pension benefits have become a point of political contention, in nine of those states, those costs are dwarfed by how much they spend on corporate subsidies or lose through business tax breaks and loopholes, such as offshore tax havens, on an annual basis. Three dealt with annual pension costs around one and a half times the size of the revenues they’ve forgone through such loopholes.

While America’s most populous state, California, predictably topped the study's list of 12 states in terms of both the highest cost of annual loopholes, tax breaks and subsidies and the highest annual cost of providing pension benefits, the state with the lowest ratio between pension and corporate tax structure costs was Florida, where public pensions cost the state government just over a third of the dent that corporate tax credits and loopholes made in the budget. Florida was followed by Oklahoma, with 37.6 percent, and Michigan, with 43.5 percent.

The report’s findings can be viewed with some skepticism, as one of the groups behind it is dedicated to cutting back state and local corporate subsidies and the other advocates for preserving pension resources. But, according to Bailey Childers, the National Public Pension Coalition’s executive director, putting the two fiscal issues side by side can draw much-needed attention to a state’s priorities.

“You’ve got to look at the full picture,” she said, adding that there are, of course, other areas of the tax code outside of corporate subsidies and loopholes that are ripe for similar attention. As for whether tax policies that attract businesses really pay off, she said, it's a question of, “Is the state really getting the bang for its buck?”

Greg LeRoy, the founder and executive director of Good Jobs First, said the best policy solution for governments looking to attract companies to their states is to prioritize small startups with high growth potential, rather than flocking to well-established behemoths, as well as choosing firms that require a lot of human capital, as opposed to those based mostly on automation. Either way, he said, the bottom line is there needs to be a clear payoff to not just the company but the surrounding economy — in which access to stable retirement income plays a significant role.

“It’s hard to call these ‘incentives,’ because incentives address a market imperfection. Reducing competition is not a way of addressing a market imperfection,” LeRoy said, adding that, in a low-interest-rate economy, access to capital isn’t much of an issue for big corporations. And because pensioners channel their retirement savings back into the commercial ecosystem, he noted, “From an economic development perspective too, pensions matter… These dollars circulate.”

Amid a decline in the number of companies created in the past decade, cities and states have engaged in what LeRoy dubbed “buffalo hunting,” which he described as no more than “a very sophisticated auction.”

It’s a practice that many state and municipal governments are engaging in as Amazon scouts out its next headquarters.

Amazon, thrown into the negative spotlight for avoiding taxes via a shell company in Luxembourg, already receives tens of millions of dollars per year in subsidies, often for setting up warehouses that spur new employment, according to a database from Good Jobs First, which catalogues state and local corporate subsidies. And with its acquisition of Whole Foods Markets, which has been making incursions into low-income communities in recent years, Amazon stands to receive much more from the federal government in the form of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) redemptions. The e-commerce giant has made no secret of its search for benefits, detailing in a memo to bidding cities the “incentives” it’s seeking for its new hub.

“Please provide a summary of total incentives offered for the Project by the state/province and local community. In this summary, please provide a brief description of the incentive item, the timing of incentive payment/realization, and a calculation of the incentive amount. Please describe any specific or unique eligibility requirements mandated by each incentive item. With respect to tax credits, please indicate whether credits are refundable, transferable, or may be carried forward for a specific period of time. If the incentive includes free or reduced land costs, include the mechanism and approvals that will be required. Please also include all timelines associated with the approvals of each incentive. We acknowledge a Project of this magnitude may require special incentive legislation in order for the state/province to achieve a competitive incentive proposal. As such, please indicate if any incentives or programs will require legislation or other approval methods. Ideally, your submittal includes a total value of incentives, including the specified benefit time period.”

Colorado, where pension costs equalled 48.7 percent of the revenue lost from its corporate tax structure, appeared to be a likely home for Amazon’s second main facility after a New York Times analysis named Denver, its capital, as the best choice. The Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERA) proposed dramatic cuts to its benefits late last month — on the same day as the deadline for Colorado cities to submit proposals for future Amazon sites to the state government.