Following are remarks I delivered to the Wichita City Council, asking them to not approve tax increment financing (TIF) for a project in Wichita. The council approved the financing by a vote of six to one. Thank you to council member Paul Gray for his dissenting vote.
Mr. Mayor and members of the Wichita City Council, I ask you to not approve this TIF financing request, and to cease this practice in the future.
We need to allow markets to channel capital and investment to where people value it greatest. The profit and loss system provides that guidance.
By asking for the TIF financing, developers are sending us a signal that without the special tax favor, their project would not be economically feasible. They evidently have judged that it would not be profitable. They must feel that they will not be able to sell or rent at prices that will cover their costs of developing this project.
This means that proceeding with the project is investing capital somewhere other than its most-valued use. We know that because developers build other things in Wichita without receiving a subsidy, and they are able to earn a profit.
Now this project may satisfy the political goals of some people who believe that not enough development is happening in their politically-desired part of town. But these people are not spending their own money to accomplish this goal.
If these developers want to build something in this area, they need to figure out what will appeal to people, what will fill enough of a need, that the project is profitable on its own. That’s how we will know that this investment is wise. They won’t have to appear before governmental bodies seeking approval for their plans. They can just do it.
That’s market entrepreneurship. It is the way that wealth is created. These developers, instead, are practicing political entrepreneurship, where they seek to please various governmental bodies, rather than satisfying consumers who express their desires through the mechanism of markets.
This leads to a corrosive environment where nearly every week someone appears before this council requesting special treatment, that favor paid for by the rest of the the community. This is harmful.
Supporters of TIF explain them in a way that makes it seem as though there is no cost involved in granting the subsidy. But there is. Why would these developers want them, and why would this council not grant them to everyone if there were no cost?
I propose a pledge that this council could take that will help our community become aware of the cost of these subsidies, and will also alleviate some of the inequity. When the City of Wichita grants special tax treatment, it must reduce its spending by the same amount. By following this simple rule, the City can be reminded of the cost of granting special tax favors, and the rest of us won’t have to pay for them.