Downtown Wichita Arena TIF District Still a Bad Idea

Say no to expansion of the Center City South Redevelopment tax increment financing (TIF) District.

Remarks to be delivered at the December 2, 2008 meeting of the Wichita City Council. Watch the video here.

Mr. Mayor, Members of the Council:

It is the case the the City of Wichita is proposing to limit this TIF district spending to things like streets, intersections, landscaping, and lighting. But these are still things that developers working outside of TIF districts generally have to pay for themselves.

This is the real function of TIF districts: TIF developers get to use their own property taxes to pay for things that non-TIF developers have to pay for out-of-pocket, or through special tax assessments on top of their regular property taxes. This is accomplished through a confusing arrangement that hides the reality and size of the subsidy given to TIF developers. I’ve come to realize that this confusion serves a useful purpose to this council, because if the people of Wichita knew what was really happening, they’d be outraged.

The proposed TIF district, while smaller than previously proposed, is still large. Very large. Has anyone calculated what share of the retail and restaurant trade in Wichita would have to be captured by this district in order for it to be successful?

Has anyone performed a market study to see if obtaining this market share would be feasible? And if feasible, what effect would this have on existing business and development in Wichita? Specifically, what effect would this have on other development in downtown, such as Old Town and Waterwalk? We’ve seen that when city-subsidized business is in financial trouble, this council is willing to fund a bailout.

We’re at a point, Mr. Mayor, where entrepreneurs may not be willing to work in Wichita without a taxpayer subsidy, or at least not in competition with subsidized development. I am aware of a commercial development in Wichita that has been canceled because of Wichita’s tax environment. Some developers have told me that they are reconsidering whether to do any more business in Wichita simply because of our property tax environment. This situation has recently worsened, as we voted ourselves a large tax increase last month. At the state level, spending cuts or tax increases loom as the state’s budget situation deteriorates.

Then, consider reporting in the Wichita Eagle this summer, which found this: “City and county tax records show that nearly $159 million in public money has been spent on Wichita’s tax increment financing districts, to get roughly $150 million worth of new development.” That’s not a good deal for city taxpayers.

Also, evidence of the effectiveness of TIF districts for cities as a whole is not good. A study from the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois finds that “cities, towns, and villages that had TIF districts actually grew more slowly than municipalities that did not use TIF.”

Finally, Mr. Mayor, you’ve referred to some people as the “naysayers.” I don’t know if you were talking about me. It would be presumptuous of me to think so. But I don’t say “nay” to development, even to downtown development. What I say “no” to is taxpayer-subsidized development, planned and managed by government.

Saying “no” to that, in turn, lets us say “yes” to the rich diversity of human individuality instead of a collectivist vision driven by government bureaucracy. It means saying “yes” to free people cooperating voluntarily through free markets. That is what is disappearing as more and more of our city’s development is subsidized and managed by government.


7 thoughts on “Downtown Wichita Arena TIF District Still a Bad Idea”

  1. Great presentation, but 75% of the Council does not have an education pass the 12th grade. If you gave the presentation in Spanish you would have had the same response.

  2. Sadly, Steve’s comment posted above is correct. We need less government control and sponsorship, not more.

  3. Regretfully the above two comments are right on. We are trusting complex business decisions that involve literally hundreds of millions of dollars to a group of people that is essentially fiscally handicapped. Thanks for fighting for the poor taxpayer.

  4. Skelton has been for some time kept out of the loop on most issues. Mayor Brewer and Sue Schlapp do not like anyone disagreeing with them and will punish any opposition by withholding information from them. They are also recruiting opposition for Skelton in his re-election bid this coming spring. They want more “sheep” to follow them over the City’s financial cliff.

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