Audrey Spalding
Show-Me Daily writers have complained repeatedly about Saint Louis paying companies to move into the city. But in a new and extremely backward twist, Saint Louis is paying a scrap yard business $1.75 million to leave the city. Why? It's not because the scrap yard is operated by an irresponsible owner — the family-owned company has been in Saint Louis for nearly four generations. By asking the scrap yard, Becker Iron & Metal, to leave, the city is giving up tax revenues and eliminating existing Saint Louis–based jobs.

No, the reasoning of city officials is that the effort is to replace the scrap yard with something "better." As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch puts it, this will "[clear] the area of a necessarily ugly industrial site and [open] it to redevelopment."

I wrote only a day ago about how governments keep realizing that they can't successfully plan development and yet continue to try, so I won't waste your time repeating that post. But I am curious: What have Saint Louis officials decided would be a "better" use of the Becker Iron & Metal property?

From the Post-Dispatch:
Once the Beckers depart, a multi-purpose truck stop accessed by Interstate 70 will occupy most of the site where the scrap facility has operated for 13 years. The transformation is part of an effort by the St. Louis Development Corp. to locate more light industry and service-oriented businesses along 3,000 acres on the North Riverfront. Deputy Director Otis Williams said the goal was to upgrade a major "entry point" to the city now populated with heavy industry — including several other metal recycling yards.

So, is it worth $1.75 million to replace something that looks this:



With something that looks like this?



I don't understand how either one is better than the other, except that one is a successful family-owned business, while the other comes with a very hefty price tag — at the expense of taxpayers.

Furthermore, anything can be replaced with something "better." The mayor's home could be improved, I am sure, with some addition. The White House could increase in value if we added some gold leaf details. It is no real justification to say that an existing structure, home, or business isn't good enough, and that taxpayer money is needed to improve it.

Not only have government officials repeatedly demonstrated that they are unable to make such judgments, but such a justification opens the door for government to take or "improve" anything. In this case, and in all other situations like this, it is better not to spend taxpayer money, and instead leave success undisturbed.

About the Author

Audrey Spalding