As our readers might remember, the Chesterfield Hockey Association (CHA) wants to raise $7 million from the Chesterfield Valley Transportation Development District (CVTDD) to help fund the construction costs of its proposed new ice rink. Researchers at the Show-Me Institute have rejected the arguments of proponents of this and similar initiatives, but as the project has now been presented to residents of the CVTDD for consideration, I'd like to reiterate some facts about transportation development districts (TDD) in general, and the CVTDD specifically.
First, if the district is extended, the district and its taxes can continue up to an additional 15 years beyond its originally scheduled termination. Put more simply, that means up to 15 more years of collecting taxes that would not otherwise have been levied. To say that’s not a new tax is like a bank adding over a decade’s worth of payments to your home mortgage and telling you there’s nothing to worry about because the payments aren’t “new.”
Second, TDDs were meant to raise funds for critical infrastructure projects; what they actually raise funds for is often anything but that. A recent report by the Missouri State Auditor exposed TDDs in Missouri as routinely “engaging in questionable practices with little oversight or transparency.” One example has been the CVTDD itself, which used over $500,000 taxpayer dollars to construct a “beautification wall”—a project whose questionable use of tax dollars has been documented before.
Third, the ballot initiative language for extending the CVTDD is hardly reassuring to those interested in good government. The language provides an extensive laundry list of items that revenue from the CVTDD may be used to fund. While a casual reader might assume the list is exhaustive, such an assumption would be incorrect. The list of permissible expenses is preceded with the words, “including without limitation.” The scope of spending could exceed even the problematic spending priorities that are explicitly spelled out to voters. The items articulated on the ballot aren’t limits; they’re examples.
Fourth, if this ballot initiative passes, then anyone who shops in the CVTDD—not only the well-to-do, but also single mothers, poor families, and those of meager means—will be subsidizing the recreation of the CHA through the sales tax that they pay at Walmart and other stores in the district.
Setting aside the deficiencies of the ballot language and even assuming that taxpayers’ money is efficiently used within the explicit scope of the project, the proposal itself remains troubling. It would commit an entire community, through the vote of only a few, to subsidizing significant amenities for members of a narrowly tailored special interest organization—not to mention that there has been no showing of need that cannot be met without a tax that is inherently regressive. That a private group may end up with a public windfall, thanks to the state’s broken TDD laws, should bother us all.