David Stokes
Like monsters in a horror film, Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts keep coming back larger and more rapacious. Officials in Columbia and Joplin are now both considering huge TIF districts that will encompass major parts of their cities. (I wrote about Joplin's TIF here, and we can all admit this is a different circumstance than most TIF plans in Missouri.)

The Columbia plan is thrilling to me in that its supporters do not even bother trying to couch their intentions. TIF was passed originally as a way to revive blighted communities. But, from the beginning, it was used to subsidize retail establishments. Now, in Columbia, they are basically admitting it is a tool of progressive urban planning; using other people's (and other government's) money to get what they want. Doubt me? Take this letter in support of a new TIF district (scroll to end) in Columbia from Rosalie Gerding with the Downtown Leadership Council:
Developers who come forward with plans that will accomplish the designs proposed in the report could be encouraged to apply for TIF funds.

Here, TIF is blatantly proposed as a carrot for urban planning, not a way to revitalize a depressed area. Of course, because downtown Columbia is not the least bit depressed, that makes sense in a weird way. Like being wrong by 359 degrees almost makes you right.

There are more unsettling aspects to this plan. Eminent domain abuse goes hand-in-hand with TIF, so it should be frightening for Columbia residents to read this line from the letter (emphasis added):
Without incentives in place, we continue to run the risk that projects we don't necessarily want will go up in the very spots that we have targeted for higher-use development.

My translation, "We need to use other people's money to subsidize our friends' developments because we can't allow the free market to determine what happens in downtown Columbia."

The plan that the Columbia City Council accepted last week (see p. 35) clearly states they want to turn all of downtown into a huge TIF district. (To be fair, they just accepted the plan, they did not pass the TIF.) I continue to find it amazing that a great city like Columbia wants to imitate the failed examples of Kansas City and Saint Louis by passing more and more TIFs and other subsidies (EEZs) to encourage things that have been happening without subsidies. Then again, maybe the market forces were making plans that the "urban planners" did not like, and Lord knows you cannot allow that to happen.

I cannot commend Boone County Assessor Tom Schauwecker enough for his continued fight on this issue.

About the Author

David Stokes

David Stokes is a Saint Louis native, he is a graduate of Saint Louis University High School and