Wichita should reject tax increment financing

Remarks delivered to the Wichita City Council, December 6, 2011, regarding the formation of a new tax increment financing (TIF) district in south Wichita. The measure passed with all members except Michael O’Donnell (district 4, south and southwest Wichita) voting in favor of creating the TIF district.

Mayor, members of the council,

No matter how much spin is put on this by its supporters and this council, TIF turns over taxation to private interests. To the extent we must have taxation, it should be for public purposes, to pay for things that everyone benefits from.

What this council is considering today is turning over this public function to the benefit of one person. Some on this council believe that TIF is not really a benefit to the applicant, as they are going to pay property taxes in any case.

That’s true — so far. But to properly represent the interests of this city, we need to look farther. We need to look at “stage two,” or “what happens next.” And when we look, we see that under TIF, the vast majority of the taxes paid are redirected away from the public treasury and back to one person’s interest.

Some will bring up the “but-for” argument, which is to say that none of this will happen unless the TIF district is created. It’s easy to create scenarios that show government assistance is necessary. But we’ve seen examples lately where applicants stood before this council and told you that they must have some form of assistance, that it is impossible to proceed without it. But after being denied assistance, the projects proceeded. In fact, the current applicant made such a claim to this council regarding special property tax treatment through industrial revenue bonds. This council declined to offer the assistance, but the project moved ahead anyway.

Now if TIF provided a benefit, that would be one thing. But compelling research that no one on this council has controverted tells us two things.

First, one study concludes this: “We find evidence that the non-TIF areas of municipalities that use TIF grow no more rapidly, and perhaps more slowly, than similar municipalities that do not use TIF.” So if we are concerned about the level of development in the entire city, we should reject TIF.

Second, another tells of the impact of retail TIF districts on jobs. “TIF districts supporting retail development have a negative effect on municipal employment.” So if we are concerned about jobs for everyone, we should reject retail TIF districts.

We might also look to a state that is perhaps the leader in the application of TIF, although they’re called redevelopment districts there: California Governor Jerry Brown is working to eliminate the use of TIF districts and close down those that exist. His reason: The state can’t afford them.

We also need to look at the characteristics of this applicant. The Wichita Business Journal reported this regarding a company Mr. Maxwell owned: “Pixius proposes to repay, over a 10-year period, $1.3 million of a $6.4 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service, according to court documents. The loan was part of a 2002 Farm Bill pilot program that loaned more than $180 million to ISPs to expand Internet service to rural areas. ‘To my memory … Pixius is the only one (to receive a loan) that’s had to file bankruptcy to work out of its situation,’ says Claiborn Crain, USDA spokesman.”

I would also note that at least one member of this council has accepted campaign contributions from Mr. Maxwell and his wife. Some jurisdictions have “pay-to-play” laws, which prohibit officeholders who have accepted campaign contributions from voting on measures that would enrich the contributor. We don’t have these laws in Wichita, although I hope that we will. But there’s no reason that this council can’t act as through such laws are in place.


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