What an Honest Economic Development Study in Kansas City Might Conclude
A July piece by Steve Vockrodt for The Kansas City Star talked about the city’s efforts to study the real impact of economic development programs in Kansas City. According to Mayor Sly James,
Such an analysis, if done correctly, will take some time to complete, however, we will be working to complete it as soon as possible. The report will provide the sort of data and facts that can lead to reasonable and responsible improvements to our economic development policy.
It’s been three months since that piece, and no study is forthcoming. A subsequent Star story, however, suggests that the City’s effort may be more interested in highlighting incentives than in assessing them.
Mayor Sly James said at a recent meeting of KCStat — a data-crunching initiative of the city’s meant to improve its effectiveness — that City Hall doesn’t do a good enough job of promoting how economic development benefits the city.
Will the proposed $350,000 study aim to assess policy or “promote” successes? Existing research into the city's economic development policies does not paint a pretty picture. The Show-Me Institute conducted its own examination of TIF abuse in Kansas City broadly as well as individual analyses of questionable tax abatement (TA) projects such as for H&R Block and Burns & McDonnell. We’ve also highlighted independent university research that shows that subsidies like TIF have no impact. Still, some pundits in Kansas City simply “don’t care.”
While we wait for the Kansas City report, let’s consider a similar report recently completed in St. Louis. My colleagues Graham Renz and Michael Highsmith are releasing a series of pieces (the first of which is available here) examining that report. In short, the study found that:
- Development incentives have little to no positive economic development benefits. The $709 million the city has spent on TIF and TA has not created jobs, revitalized neighborhoods, or increased long-term tax revenues.
- Rather than TIF and TA being used in economically depressed areas, they are used mostly in neighborhoods with strong housing markets. In fact, nearly two thirds are used in just three neighborhoods in the central corridor.
- The level and quality of reporting on incentives is so poor that officials and the public “cannot readily determine what may or may not be deemed a project worthy of consideration for a City tax incentive.”
The sheer amount of money being diverted away from important city services makes this an important area for the city to examine. While Kansas City works to analyze the data, the honest examination from St. Louis should serve as a model—and a warning.