Missouri’s TIF Infestation
If I got to pick it, the slogan for my beloved home state of Missouri would be: “Missouri: We’re In The Middle.” Most ways you look at it – geography, politics, various standard-of-living measures – we rank in the middle of the states. Sure, there are exceptions. We are low on occupational licensing and excise taxes, and high on meth (in more ways than one… well, actually, just in one more way than one).
One thing on which we rank very high is the use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF). This excellent paper on TIF, by Randal O’Toole with the CATO Institute, ranks Missouri third in total and fourth per capita in the sale of TIF bonds from 2005 to 2010. (See page 12 of the paper for the table.) This is not something of which to be proud.
TIF is common in Missouri. Right now, we have more ongoing applications than I can keep track of. The city of Columbia wants a giant TIF for its downtown area. A TIF is being sought for a section of St. Charles, even though the main landowner of the area in question is a tax-exempt educational institution. Just a few months ago, Kansas City approved a gigantic TIF for the city. Developers are seeking a TIF in Shrewsbury that will do nothing but continue the rearranging of the deck chairs for retail in Saint Louis County. From the Patch story on that proposal, if I may be so bold as to quote myself:
David Stokes, a policy analyst with the Show-Me Institute, said what he heard was “just a terrible economic fallacy.”
“Of course it’s just preliminary, but from what I can tell it is just another example of the economic issues the East-West Council of Governments supported in their report two months ago, which is that every city is doing something to support their own little city, but it’s killing our county’s economic base, and it’s hurting the region,” Stokes said. “It might benefit Shrewsbury in the short run but seems it’s just going to be another type of TIF development that’s going to hurt our region.”
“Maybe if it can’t be done without public dollars, maybe it just shouldn’t be done,” he said.
The problems in these cases is the cities, not the counties. In fact, St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann, along with his predecessor, Joe Ortwerth, have been strident in opposition to TIF in that county, to their great credit. Also to his credit, Saint Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley has recently taken the lead in opposition to these TIFs – he really gets it that a few cities are helped but the entire county is hurt. And Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders at least sued to get more equal representation on the Kansas City TIF commission.
But, even though they have instituted county TIF commissions in Saint Louis and its currounding counties, the insane rule still applies that city councils can override the TIF commission with a supermajority vote. So, the city council for the 15,000 people of Bridgeton gets to override the Saint Louis County TIF Commission and determine tax policy that will affect the one million people of Saint Louis County. I totally support county TIF commissions, but the part of the law that allows city councils to override the TIF commission with just a supermajority vote is insane. They should not be allowed to override it at all. Lot’s more to come on this issue in the coming weeks and months. And this time, I mean it.