Lee’s Summit Is Generous to a Fault
A bad idea doesn’t get better with age. Bad ideas aren’t wine, jeans, or your high school memories. The tax subsidies for the Paragon Star development in Lee’s Summit were a bad idea back in 2015 when the development was proposed, and they are a bad idea now, as Lee’s Summit gets close to finalizing approval on the project and granting the latest tax subsidies.
Using tax subsidies for economic development rarely benefits the public. Instead, it lowers the risk and increases the returns for the private investors. Under a capitalist system, the relationship between risk and reward for investors can a wonderful thing, but in recent decades the government has somehow decided the public should get involved in private business dealings with tax subsidies and incentives. Taxpayers in Independence were left holding the bag for the failed Bass Pro tax increment financing (TIF) plan, and most economic development schemes are like an expensive game of musical chairs where the taxpayer is always the one with nowhere to sit.
The Paragon Star development, which includes youth athletic fields, hotels, office space, apartments, restaurants, and more, has already been approved for significant taxpayer subsidies, including a $32 million TIF, another $32 million in transportation bonds, and $5 million in special sales taxes. Now the developers are requesting $6 million in neighborhood improvement district (NID) subsidies. Keeping track of all the TIFs, CIDs, NIDs, and more requires an advanced degree in acronyms.
Subsidizing all of this in the floodplain of the Little Blue River makes it even more absurd. In fact, as of August 28, using TIF in the floodplain in most of Missouri will be illegal. But Lee’s Summit has nothing to fear; Jackson County got itself exempted from that law. It will remain perfectly legal in Jackson County to use tax subsidies to develop in the floodplain, which will raise the height of the water in the next flood—causing more damage than before and requiring public money to rescue or reimburse those harmed. As insane as it is, it all makes perfect sense in the world of the developer-subsidy complex.
I have no illusions that the Lee’s Summit city council will deny the NID and risk the project at this late point. There are eleven current TIFs within the city, whose leaders seems to believe that it must subsidize its way to growth. Numerous economic studies have proven the fallacy of that belief. Prosperous, desirable communities like Lee’s Summit are fully capable of economic growth without tax subsidies. However, part-time city councilmembers are rarely willing or able to fight back against the well-paid phalanx of lawyers, planners, and lobbyists that developers employ in their quest for other people’s tax dollars.
Whether it is a TIF, CID, or NID, the taxpayers are always the ones without a chair when the music stops. I hope the citizens of Lee’s Summit realize this before it is too late.