A Tale Of Two County Executives (More Similar Than Different)
Last month, I attended a tax increment financing (TIF) commission meeting in Saint Charles. Last Wednesday night, I planned to testify before the Saint Louis County TIF commission meeting in Shrewsbury, until it was abruptly cancelled on short notice. Both meetings involved TIF applications for retail centers (among other things) in Saint Charles and Shrewsbury. Both are terrible ideas. Both have the support of cities seeking (understandably) their narrow self-interest over the interest of the county or region. The respective county executives oppose the two plans, although I must be clear that I know Saint Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann opposes the Saint Charles plan and I believe Saint Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley opposes the Shrewsbury plan (based on history, which I will detail more in-depth later).
Ehlmann gave an excellent talk at the TIF hearing last month. Here is his stated opposition to the TIF:
However, he said a city tax-increment financing subsidy would be “bad public policy” because it would channel into the project some of the new property tax revenue generated that would otherwise go to the St. Charles School District and other governments.
“If the city can do a TIF to make others pay for what is their responsibility, when are we going to start using city money for schools?” Ehlmann said.
Ehlmann and his predecessor, Joe Ortwerth, have been leaders in calling out the fact that these TIFs do not do anything for our economy. They inefficiently redirect activity based on who is giving out the most tax dollars. Saint Charles County has put its money where its mouth is regarding TIF, and actively fought prior TIFs in court, although the rulings have always favored the cities. It is great to see Ehlmann is still fighting that fight against these abuses.
Charlie Dooley has also been leading the fight against these TIFs in Saint Louis County. He has not made a statement directly on the Shrewsbury TIF, so I do not know exactly how he feels about it. But based on his opposition to the last Walmart TIF in Bridgeton, and the comments of the county reps on the current TIF commission, I think he likely is opposed to this one as well. (Someone should feel free to correct me if I am wrong.) Dooley made public comments about the Bridgeton TIF between the TIF commission process and the city council decision. I think that is perfectly appropriate, and I hope he leads the opposition should the Shrewsbury City Council attempt to override the decision of the county TIF commission.
One of the most important legislative changes we need in Missouri is eliminating the ability of cities to override TIF commissions. Cities can approve a TIF even if the commission defeats it. That is an atrocious law that empowers small groups to abuse the tax system at the expense of many other people and entities (such as school districts). Both county executives – Ehlmann and Dooley – deserve great credit for thinking about their whole county (and region) first, and opposing these types of tax abuses.