How Bad Policy Survives
In modern politics, combatants like to paint those around them as evil or ignorant. The practice is as old as the republic. And while a small minority of policymakers may have questionable motives, more often than not, they mean well.
So where does bad policymaking come from? Sometimes it comes from getting so caught up in the debate that we don’t examine the facts we’re dealing with. Today’s example comes from the December 10 Kansas City Council’s business session. The topic was the airport. And as he seems to do every time he talks about the airport, the Mayor offered up statements he must know are not true. At least three times he made the same mistake:[2:28:55] “The cost is in the airport, the region has nothing to do with it. All of the costs are in the airport and come from the airport. There’s not tax money that comes from Johnson County or Wyandotte County or Clay or Platte or Cass. Its all airport money. It’s in the airport; stays in the airport; and gets recycled.” [2:30:29] “Airport revenue can only be used for airports. Money that is generated in the airport stays in the airport.” [2:30:58] “You can’t take any money from the airport and use it for sewers or sinks or anything else.”
This is not the first time the Mayor has made this claim. He’s done it in interviews and in his state of the city speech.
We know this is not true because we have a city ordinance that authorized the city to move funds from the Aviation Department to the Finance Department. We know because while James was mayor the city renegotiated the debt to give them more time to pay it off. We know because the Mayor’s own submitted budget for 2015-16 includes it as a line item.
Perhaps most strikingly, we know because earlier at the very same December 10 business meeting, aviation consultant Sheri Ernico said:[35:47] “There was an instance, which is very unusual for airports in this country, where the [Kansas City] general fund borrowed some money from the airport in 2008, but it had to be repaid with interest.”
What makes the Mayor’s stubborn memory lapse most worrying is that the loan was made to cover losses the city incurred in bad tax increment financing deals for things such as the Power & Light District.
What hope can we have for good public policy when mistakes are papered over with denied consequences?