Regionalism for Thee, But Not for Me
In their recent push to keep the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) in Saint Louis City, city leadership has argued the case of economic necessity. As the mayor put it:
The NGA is vital to our City’s economic health, and its relocation to North St. Louis will reinvigorate a significant urban area of our community. Conversely, losing the NGA would be a devastating blow to our City’s economy. The many benefits to the future of both St. Louis and NGA are immeasurable, promising and exciting.
With the NGA as the new centerpiece of the Northside Redevelopment Project (which has failed to achieve anything thus far), the city hopes to turn around a significant section of North Saint Louis City. The loss of the facility would, supposedly, be devastating.
You might be forgiven for thinking that the NGA is choosing between sites in Saint Louis and far away cities in Texas or Maryland. But that’s not the case. The NGA is choosing between sites inside the Saint Louis region, including sites in Saint Louis County and near Scott Air Force Base. If the NGA moves from its current location in South City to either location outside the city, it will change commuting patterns for current employees. However, the effects on the regional economy and regional jobs should be nil. The NGA’s move out of the city will not be a devastating blow to the city’s economy (which is ensconced in a larger region), but rather a blow to the city’s tax rolls, which depend on earnings taxes (more than $2 million a year) that the facility provides.
The city’s apocalyptic attitude towards losing tax revenue underscores Saint Louis City’s love-hate relationship with regionalism. When it comes to funding improvements in—and for the benefit of—Saint Louis City (and usually downtown), city leaders call for everyone to chip in for the Arch grounds and convention centers and stadiums and the light rail. Any refusal by outlying areas to throw in their money is treated as myopic, and a deep regional problem. But now that an important source of revenue might move out of the confines of the city, leadership is treating other parts of the region like they’re the surface of the moon.
The message city leadership sends when they speak this way is that regionalism means coming together to build up the city, not the outlying communities. That is hardly going to inspire residents who do not live or work in Saint Louis City (read: most metro residents).
Finally, just as an aside, would anyone have approved the massive tax subsidies to Paul McKee’s Northside Redevelopment project if they had known its success hinged on relocating a large Department of Defense instillation to the Northside? Wasn’t that project supposed to draw new jobs and residents to the city?