On Tuesday June 16, 2008, the Wichita City Council agreed to lend the Old Town Warren Theatre’s owners $6 million so they could keep the theater open. (City agrees to loan Warren $6 million June 18, Wichita Eagle).
Wichita Interim City Manager Ed Flentje issued this warning to the council: “There are in this community much larger businesses with much larger employment who may see this opening as something that will open a door for those businesses to come and say, ‘You’ve done it before, you can do it for us.'”
Dr. Flentje, I hate to break the news to you, but the door is already wide open. Not so much for loans directly from the city to business entities, but for all sorts of TIF districts and tax abatements. These arrangements generally let developers use the property taxes they pay — taxes that would normally go to fund the operations of the city and other governments — to pay for the development itself. Developers who don’t receive tax favors have to pay property taxes, and also must pay for the types of things that TIF districts funds pay for.
These special tax favors are now dispensed freely by the Wichita City Council. As I stated at a public hearing before that body not long ago: “It is now apparent that TIF districts and tax abatements are entitlements that developers in politically-favored areas of town can count on receiving, while everyone else pays.” See Tax Abatements in Wichita.
Whether a developer receives a low-interest loan, or an outright gift, or the privilege of having your property taxes returned right back to you, these special favors serve to distort the free allocation of capital according to what people really want. Instead, capital, in the form of tax dollars, is allocated according to the desires of politicians.
Bill Warren and the theater’s other owners know very well the benefits that TIF districts can bring to a development. The theater in question benefited from a TIF district established in 1999. That district is, according to the article, the only tax district in Wichita that doesn’t generate enough tax revenue to pay for the bonds issued for it.
The problems with this TIF district benefiting the Warren Theater are not new. The Wichita Eagle reported on November 14, 2004 (“Old Town tax district misses goals: Plaza falls short”) that “A special tax district set up to pay for millions of dollars of public spending in the Old Town Cinema Plaza is generating less than half the revenue it’s supposed to — and taxpayers citywide will have to pick up the tab.”
Also see Warren bailout poses dilemma.