A post titled Keeping TIFs from a public tiff by Wichita Eagle business reporter Bill Wilson on the Eagle’s Business Casual blog reveals his bias in favor of government over individual action and preference.
My post The Wichita Eagle’s Preference For Government documents one such example from the past. In this blog post Mr. Wilson reveals more of this preference and the faulty assumptions that go along with it.
For example, he speaks of the need to “incentivize development.” Incentives are designed to get people to do something they wouldn’t do on their own. That pretty much describes downtown development. I’m sure that Mr. Wilson is aware that there’s lots of development going on in Wichita. It’s just not where politicians such as Wichita mayor Carl Brewer and council member Sharon Fearey want it to be. Add journalists like Mr. Wilson to this list, apparently. The Wichita Eagle editorial board has been on this list for a long time.
There’s nothing magic about downtown. The fact that people, when spending and investing their own funds, overwhelmingly choose to take action somewhere other than downtown is direct evidence of that. How arrogant is it for politicians and bureaucrats to overrule these decisions made freely by people acting in their own best interest?
In a comment, Mr. Wilson states “I have a hard time equating TIF money with a direct government handout …” I would encourage him to read the post Wichita City Council’s Misunderstanding of Tax Increment Financing, in which the author explains how TIF financing is, in fact, a direct subsidy to developers. I would be interested to see if Mr. Wilson can develop a refutation to this argument.
Mr. Wilson also writes of the need for “proper analysis and monitoring” of TIF district proposals. But government is ill-suited for either task. Politicians and government bureaucrats face a different set of incentives from private developers. Politicians seek to please their campaign contributers so they can be re-elected. Bureaucrats seek to preserve their own jobs and increase their domain of influence and power.
Market entrepreneurs, however, are directly accountable to their customers through the profit and loss system. If they do a good job anticipating what customers want, and if they are able to efficiently deliver what customers want, they’ll earn a profit. If not, they either change or go out of business.
Politicians and bureaucrats do not face such a stern taskmaster. When their decisions turn out to be faulty, the usual response is to pour more money into something that should be allowed to die. An example is the Old Town Warren Theater.