CIDs are a creation of the Kansas Legislature from the 2009 session. They allow merchants in a district to collect additional sales tax of up to two cents per dollar. The extra sales tax is used for the exclusive benefit of the CID.
One of the main issues to be decided is the issue of warning signage. Some have recommended that consumers be protected from unknowingly shopping in stores, restaurants, and hotels that will be adding extra sales tax to purchases. Developers who want to benefit from CID money say that merchants object to signage, fearing it will drive away customers. Imagine that: people don’t want to pay any more tax than necessary!
City staff has recommended that a website be used to notify customers of CIDs. This form of notification is so weak as to be meaningless.
One of the follies in Wichita government economic development policy is the categorization of costs into eligible and non-eligible costs. The proceeds from programs like CIDs and tax increment financing may be used only for costs in the “eligible” category. I suggest that we stop arbitrarily distinguishing between “eligible costs” and other costs. When city bureaucrats and politicians use a term like “eligible costs” it makes this process seem benign. It makes it seem as though we’re not really supplying corporate welfare and subsidy.
As long as the developer has to spend money on what we call “eligible costs,” the fact that the city subsidy is restricted to these costs has no economic meaning. Suppose I gave you $10 with the stipulation that you could spend it only on next Monday. Would you deny that I had enriched you by $10? Of course not. As long as you were planning to spend $10 next Monday, or could shift your spending from some other day to Monday, this restriction has no economic meaning.
The rise of CIDs is an example of the city working at cross-purposes with itself, as many of the CIDs are for the benefit of hotels and other tourist attractions. Now we have the situation where we spend millions every year subsidizing airlines so that airfares to Wichita are low. Then we turn around and add extra tax to visitors’ hotel bills and perhaps the shops and restaurants they visit. Vice Mayor Jeff Longwell approves this as a wise strategy.
Developers say that Wichita will lose deals if businesses don’t have the ability to charge extra sales tax without the prior knowledge of customers. I would suggest we lose deals because of another reason: our high business property taxes. According to the Minnesota Taxpayers Association, commercial property in Wichita is taxed an an effective rate of 2.801 percent per year. The national average is about 1.9 percent, meaning the rate in Wichita is 47 percent greater.
These high commercial property taxes have driven developers such as Colby Sandlian and others out of Wichita. They continue to develop properties outside of Wichita and Kansas — in Sandlian’s case, over $100 million in commercial development outside of Kansas since 1989.
These high business taxes mean that the state and cities must concoct schemes like CIDs and other economic development giveaways in order to attract business to Wichita. This places governmental bodies like the Wichita City Council in the position of selecting which business firms it will invest in, when there’s no way the Council has the knowledge and incentive structure needed to make these decisions.
If we will lose deals because a special class of merchants can’t charge extra sales tax, then we have a big problem.
If we will lose deals because we’re afraid to notify consumers — in advance — of the taxes they will pay, we have a big problem.
Finally perhaps the simplest public policy issue is this: If merchants feel they need to collect additional revenue from their customers, why don’t they simply raise their prices? Why the roundabout process of the state collecting extra sales tax, only to ship it back to the merchants in the CID?