In Wichita, is Economic Development Proven Public Policy?

In a statement read by Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and released on the city’s website at Mayor Brewer Warren Theatre [sic] Statement, the mayor states “Economic development is proven public policy.” The word “proven” was used several other times in the statement.

(I don’t know who wrote the title to the statement, but it combines the mayor’s name with theater developer Bill Warren’s name in a way that is, I am sure, unintentionally humorous. Mayor Brewer Warren? Who is he?)

The Warren Theater economic development project is one example of economic development that has proven not to work, despite the mayor’s claims.

But that is only my opinion. The definition of success, I realize, could mean different things to different people. To me, I would expect that once a development is given a huge head start with millions of dollars in subsidy provided through tax increment financing, that after a few years it would at least be breaking even. Certainly, I would hope — and I think the people of Wichita agree — that the project does not become a continual drain on the resources of the people of Wichita, as the Old Town Warren Theater has become.

But it appears that Mayor Brewer and council member Sharon Fearey have a different definition of success. To them, tax increment financing is not a subsidy to a developer. It’s an investment by the city. All it’s used for, according to Fearey, is to pay bonds: “Under a TIF, the additional property taxes generated by new development are used to repay bonds. No dollars go to private developers.” (Sharon Fearey: Warren loan is an investment in future, July 1, 2008 Wichita Eagle)

Ms. Fearey, may I ask this question: the proceeds from the bonds that were issued: how are they spent?

An interest-free or reduced-interest loan is not a subsidy according to the mayor, it’s “targeted economic development.” It’s a “public-private partnership.” Without it, our taxpayer dollars would not be protected.

John Todd tells me that there is a groundswell of resentment building in Wichita over this loan. I hope that in the coming months this increased interest in the economic development activities of the Wichita city government leads to more discussion of what path we want to pursue in Wichita. Do we want more private initiative and entrepreneurship, or do we want more politicians and bureaucrats?


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