Democracy Alive And Well In Lee’s Summit
On May 23, the Lee’s Summit Enhanced Enterprise Zone (EEZ) Advisory Committee held a public meeting to collect feedback on a proposed EEZ. On April 11, the Show-Me Institute had submitted testimony about the failure of EEZs to generate any results, and on May 15, the Lee’s Summit Journal published our guest commentary regarding the issue. About 250 people were there, leading the city manager to comment that it was one of the most well-attended meetings he had witnessed.
To a person, those in the room were opposed to the implementation of the EEZ. They asked questions about the zone, the required findings of blight, and the implications for the property values. Some were upset about the implications of blight and if their property could be subjected to eminent domain as a result. The Lee’s Summit Journal reported:
By state statute, such a zone does not alter local zoning nor can a city enact eminent domain on an EEZ area, a claim made by members of the Show-Me Institute.
“Any use of eminent domain within an EEZ is deliberately misleading,” [city consultant Chris] Sally told the crowd, adding that the term “blight” doesn’t mean a residence is blighted or run down and would not decrease property values, a claim that brought groans and sighs from the audience.
Members of the Show-Me Institute do not make this claim. We asked the Journal for a revision, but did not receive one. In our brief discussion about eminent domain in the testimony and op-ed, we put EEZs into the larger context of incentive and subsidies programs such as Tax Increment Financing (TIF), which do sometimes involve eminent domain. This is appropriate because recent history shows that when cities start implementing programs like this, they do not just stop at one. If you blight an area once for an EEZ, it will be even easier next time to blight it again for a TIF, and that very well could involve eminent domain abuse.
It is understandable that economic development consultants such as Sally are frustrated by research showing that the economic development “tools” from which they make their living are useless. Sally had to admit as much when he was asked if the job growth claims of Enhanced Enterprise Zones accounted for growth that was already happening in the area. He answered that they did not. In other words, and as the Show-Me Institute research pointed out, consultants and politicians just use EEZs to claim credit for economic growth that was already going to happen.
What is deliberately misleading, however, is the designation of EEZs themselves, and several attendees commented the process was dishonest. In order to blight the area in which the Lee’s Summit City Council wants to attract development, it must include other “low-income” areas so that the whole EEZ qualifies. As a result, some of the so-called low-income areas are, in reality, neighborhoods with a large number of retired people. The City Council must also rely on 13-year old Census data regarding poverty and income — because more recent and accurate data won’t provide the numbers they need to create the EEZ. As a result, consultants like Sally draw lines around a Lee’s Summit that doesn’t exist, and state bureaucrats and city leaders seem willing to go along with the charade.
Democracy is alive and well in Lee’s Summit. The people understand a bad idea when they see it, even if city officials cannot.