Tag Archives: Allen Bell

Tax increment financing in Wichita benefits few

Recently the City of Wichita formed a TIF (tax increment financing) district to aid a developer who wishes to build in the College Hill neighborhood.

How does a TIF district work? The Wichita Eagle reported: “A TIF district doesn’t cost local governments any existing tax money. It takes property taxes paid on new construction that would ordinarily go into government coffers and redirects it to the bond holders who are financing the project.”

In the present case, the value of the benefit the developer sought is estimated to be worth $3.5 million to $4 million. Whether this benefit is given at no cost to existing government, as The Wichita Eagle article implies, is open to debate. If the new development does not use any local government services, then perhaps there is no cost in giving the benefit. But if that’s true, we might ask this question: if the development does not consume any government services, why should it have to pay taxes at all?

There is evidence that TIF districts are great for the developers — after all, who wants to pay taxes — but not so good for the rest of the city and county. The article “Tax Increment Financing: A Tool for Local Economic Development” by economists Richard F. Dye and David F. Merriman states, in its conclusion:

TIF districts grow much faster than other areas in their host municipalities. TIF boosters or naive analysts might point to this as evidence of the success of tax increment financing, but they would be wrong. Observing high growth in an area targeted for development is unremarkable.

So TIFs are good for the favored development — not a surprising finding. What about the rest of the city? Continuing from the same study:

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 TIF districts may actually reduce the rate of economic growth in the rest of the city.

There’s also evidence that TIF districts are simply a transfer of wealth from the taxpayers at large to a privileged few. In the paper titled “Do Tax Increment Finance Districts in Iowa Spur Regional Economic and Demographic Growth?” by Iowa State University economists David Swenson and Liesl Eathington, we can read this:

There is indirect statistical evidence that this profligate practice [establishing TIF districts] is resulting in a direct transfer of resources from existing tax payers to new firms without yielding region-wide economic and social gains to justify the public’s investment.

This analysis suggests that the enabling legislation for tax based incentives deserves revisiting. … there is virtually no evidence of broad economic or social benefits in light of the costs.

In the present case in Wichita, the developer says that without the benefit the TIF provides, the project is not economically viable. This is the standard rationale given for the requirement of the TIF district. Without the TIF, the development would not take place.

It may be true that this project in College Hill is not economically viable. If so, we have to wonder about the wisdom of investing in this project. More importantly, we should ask why our taxes are so high that they discourage investment and economic activity.

It may also be that the developer simply wishes to gain an advantage over the competition by lobbying for a favor from government. As government becomes more intrusive, this type of rent-seeking behavior is replacing productive economic activity.

There is one truth, however, if which I am certain: when businesses and individuals pay less tax, they have the opportunity to invest more. TIFs and tax abatements are tacit recognition that the cost of government is onerous and serves to decrease private economic activity and investment.

Here’s a better idea: reduce taxes for everyone, instead of only for companies and individuals that are successful in extracting favors from our local governments.

Wichita City Council Meeting, April 19, 2005

Some quotes and my remarks from the April 19, 2005 meeting of the Wichita City Council, where the AirTran subsidy was considered. Representatives from Delta attended and spoke.

Allen Bell, Economic Development Director for the City of Wichita:

Previous contracts had a dollar amount cap on them. The new contact, we refer to it as a no-cap contract. There is not, in the terms of the agreement, a specific dollar amount that is the not-to-exceed amount. In place of that there is a termination clause that allows the City to terminate its contract with 75 days notice for whatever reason. And the reason, of course, the major reason, would be that we know that within that 75 days, we will deplete the funds that the City believes is appropriate to spend on this.

I was startled to hear this information, that the new contract has no dollar cap, as this has not been, in my memory, reported. It has been reported that AirTran sought a no-cap contract, but that Wichita would not agree to that. But it turns out that the city has agreed to what, in effect, is a no-cap contract. Yes, I believe Mr. Bell when he says that Wichita can cancel the contract, with notice, if the city believes it will spend more than the $2.5 million it has committed to. I would submit, however, that if the City spends the $2.5 million and realizes it needs to spend more to keep AirTran in town, the City Council would vote to do so. Therefore, the no-cap contract is in effect.

Councilmember Schlapp extracted an admission from the Delta representative that Delta is not profitable on the Wichita route now, but they believe they will be soon. Ms. Schlapp concluded that there is no need, then, for a subsidy to Delta.

Mayor Mayans said we have been discriminated against, rate-wise.

Mayor Mayans: “Many of us, actually, are opposed philosophically to government interventions, because we feel that sometimes tilts the playing field.” The Mayor says one thing, but acts in a different way. What good is it to have a philosophical belief if it doesn’t guide your actions?

Mayor Mayans and the Delta representative disagreed on who made telephone calls to whom and at what time. (Mayor Mayans: “So you didn’t call me back!” “Communications is a two way street!” Delta: “My recollection of it differs slightly from yours.” “I don’t recall it was my responsibility to get back to you.”) It is disheartening to realize that major public policy decisions may be made based on incomplete information, because someone didn’t get a telephone message.

Councilmember Martz:

“I guess to me, when I look at competition, if you’re losing money, then you ought to raise your rates enough so that you’re not losing money.”

“I’m a firm believer in competition.”

“I would prefer not having any financial help from the city, but rather through pure competition, all carriers reduce their rates to a level that they number one, can make a profit, at the same time make it economical for the citizens of the whole state of Kansas to be able to fly in and out of Wichita …”

Like the mayor, Mr. Martz says one thing but acts in a different manner. His advice to airlines on how to set their fares is misplaced. We have to assume that businesses act in their best interests, and let it go at that.

Sam Williams, Chairman of Fair Fares, who evidently is so well-known to Council members that he doesn’t introduce himself when he started to speak:

“You know, Kansas in 1861 became a very important state in the history of this country, just before we went into the great dark area of the civil war. You know, we were a key state. What we did at that time had a lot to do with what happened and where we went from there. I would submit that little old Wichita, Kansas is doing that to the airline industry right now. Because of your vision, you are looking at different ways to bring fair pricing in an industry that is kind of broken, in getting them to look at themselves, us to look at ourselves, and how can we partner together to do this. Kansas again is a key, integral part of a change in this country.”

First, to equate our state’s role in the civil war with subsidizing an airline is ludicrous. Second, I feel very sad that Kansas may become the leader in subsidies, and that business leaders applaud this. Mr. Williams, I would ask you if you would welcome a governmental body deciding whether the rates that your business charges are fair, and if not fair, subsidizing your competitor?