Saturday, April 21, 2007

Some new thoughts on Tax Increment Financing

Some new thoughts on Tax Increment Financing.

People who know me know that I'm not a great TIF supporter. Perhaps the greatest irony about me is that I have sat on the TIF commission for three cities and in every case, I ultimately voted for the TIF proposal before the committee (surprise!). I believe that there are good TIFs and that there are bad TIFs. There were several interesting developments in the TIF world this week.

First, the Kansas City Star reported that Kansas City's TIF practices are questionable. The article reported that an independent agency suggested that, at this point, developers see TIF as an entitlement and it is a "given." For many years, I've said that you can't build an outhouse without getting TIF funds. I always exaggerated this issue to make the point. The Kansas City Star article now suggests that my exaggeration is now the norm. Several other recommendations from the report suggest the following.

  • The city should immediately stop using its general fund to back bonds issued for tax-incentive projects. This practice is not done anyplace else in the country and places much more risk to the city than it should.
  • The Economic Development Corp., the city’s umbrella entity for its development agencies, should receive all of its funding directly from City Hall “to assure that their interests are aligned with those of the city. Having the EDC be partially funded by the developers is like the fox guarding the chicken house.
  • Stop using Super TIF incentives — when 100 percent of the city sales, earnings and other activity taxes generated by a project are diverted to assist that project. What's now happened (IMHO) is that TIF is a given...SuperTIF is what's used to address real blight. Give it 6 more years and SuperTIF will be the entitlement!
  • The report also recommended that all city incentives should produce at least a 33 percent return to the general fund.

Perhaps the most interesting point is that it is not clear whether the TIF districts will actually reach the return on investment for six years or more. Why does this matter? Simply, more TIFs are being approved, and we don't know if the existing TIFs are paying off. Consider the worst case. Downtown KC's entertainment district tanks. Zona Rosa stops growing, etc. More money from the General Fund go to pay the TIF bonds and are diverted from basic services. Not only are more funds diverted, but the need to address real blight (e.g., Antioch Shopping Center) are delayed. This study was long, long overdue.

Second, the city of Blue Springs is calling for a TIF district to help redevelop the old Wal-Mart site. While this makes sense in one way (e.g. developing a site that is "prime" but has sat empty for several years) it is very interesting in another. What makes this interesting to me is that this may be the first TIF that is established to redevelop something that was originally created as a TIF!

Finally, I've been watching SB20 in Jefferson City very closely. I hope and hope every day that this passes. This law would tighten the some of the loopholes in the TIF law in Missouri. For instance, one point that SB20 would address is that TIF identifies several reasons that property can be considered blighted. While SB20 doesn't change the definition of TIF, it does require that a piece of property match up with more than one blight standard. Good move! SB20 also requires that if a city council over-rides the TIF commission's recommendation, the city council must vote unanimously and likely will have to take the override directly to the people. Another good move.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Don Imus and Liberal Media Bias

Don Imus and Liberal Media Bias

The number one news story, by far, this week was the fallout from the Don Imus comment. The story was on every news outlet. It even made it to sports talk with significant discussion on the Jim Rome Show. Don't get me wrong. Imus was wrong. He is mean spirited and divisive. He has always personified what's wrong with AM radio. Frankly, I was always certain that he was half-dead, or at least a vampire. He gives Keith Richard a very close run for the longest living walking corpse. But, here's my point. The Imus story illustrates that there is no liberal media. Let me illustrate the point.

The Green Zone bombed was in Baghdad. This is the area where everything is supposed to be as safe as Mayberry. This is the home of the Iraqi Parliament. We've been told that Bush's troop increase followed by the troop surge was making Iraq safer. We've been told that Iraq is safer. We've been told that we've turned the corner. However, downtown Baghdad was bombed this week. Did anyone notice, or did the news outlet just assure that we understood EVERYTHING about Don Imus.

This week, the Department of Defense announced that they will be increasing the tours of duty in Iraq. Clearly, the standing army isn't able to accomplish the mission. The same mission that I think Bush told us we "accomplished" five years ago. Clearly, this is foreshadowing to a draft. Other than making tours of duty two years, how else to do solve this issue? How do you get a troop surge without more troops?

On the Bill Maher show, he stated that "The Ready Brigade" is now deployed. This was the one brigade that we held in reserve for the unseen emergency. We now can't react to a crisis. What if there is another Katrina? What if we are attacked here..since attacking them over there doesn't seem to be working? We don't have a brigade to call into action. This is very newsworthy. But somehow, I didn't see this story on any outlet I follow.

In fact, if I'd guess, the second most noticed story this week, after Imus, was the finalization of the Anna Nicole Smith paternity test. So, now we know who the biological father. But was this more important than the Green Zone story? More to the point, how did the top two news stories harm the administration? They didn't. How might the three stories I mentioned harm the administration? They would harm the administration significantly. What did the Imus story do to the Attorney scandal? It pushed it completely off the table.

Here's the point. If we truly had a liberal media that was out to get the President, the bombing, the increased tour time, the call up of the Ready Brigade, and even the attorney stories would have buried Imus and Anna Nicole. The media is out for ratings and bad news that makes the US look bad or that is complex doesn't sell. The media isn't liberal. The media isn't conservative. The media really only cares about what sells.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Is it really THAT hard?

This post may not be very inspired or inspiring. However, I've noticed something recently that is just absolutely driving me nuts.

There is a retirement community in Independence with a flag pole out front. I drive by the place (The Fountains) nearly every day. What's driving me nuts is that they have been flying their Missouri State flag upside down for several weeks now. While I thought this was just an isolated situation, I noticed today that a maintenance department building in Kearney, Missouri was ALSO flying their Missouri State flag upside down.

You isn't hard to determine which side is up when flying a Missouri flag. On the flag, two bears are holding the seal. If they bears are upside down, guess what?!? The flag is UPSIDE DOWN!!! This isn't rocket science, people!