Wichita TIF districts mean central government planning

As the City of Wichita moves towards more government subsidy and planning instead of entrepreneurship, we should make sure we know what we’re relying on. An article by Steven Greenhut from the July/August issue of The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty provides some useful background and advice.

The article is here: Central Planning Comes to Main Street. Following are a few excerpts:

The theory is that the city deserves the new tax dollars because its efforts are improving the supposedly blighted area. But the reality is quite different. Cities don’t often use TIF to fix up blight, but to increase their tax base. Often they engage in what is called “growth capture” — city planners wait until a stable or depressed area is starting to bounce back on its own. They then brand the area “blighted” and use that as an excuse to capture the new values and transfer the gain from the old owners, who held onto the properties during the lean years, to new developers who savor the prospect of getting prime property for far-below-market rates.

This concept of “growth capture” is what’s happening in Wichita. Assessed valuations of property surrounding the arena have already risen. The area appears on an upward path on its own. Why the need for a TIF district, then?

“Does the tax abatement method meet with success?” asked Michael LaFaive of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in a 1999 article. “Not as much as if local officials simply would keep taxes low in the first place. CRC [Citizens Research Council of Michigan] found that economic growth takes place in jurisdictions where taxes are low and which consequently grant fewer abatements.”

Yes, let’s have low taxes overall, instead of just for favored developers working in politically-favored areas. Or, as John Todd said, think of what could happen if there was a TIF district city-wide.

Local economic planning, especially the creation of redevelopment project areas, actually slows down neighborhood improvement. Once an area is deemed a redevelopment area, property owners stop investing in their properties because they are not sure that they will ultimately reap the benefit of the investment. They become subjects of the central planners who will make the main decisions that affect the economic vitality of the area.

This is another important point. Individual projects in the TIF district must be planned in a way that will be able to gain approval of government planners. This happened in Tuesday’s Wichita city council meeting, where the first project in a TIF district known as C.O.R.E was brought before the council for approval. How many developers want to work with city bureaucrats looking over their shoulder?

There’s much more valuable insight in this article.

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