Green Acres, We Are (Not) There!
Newly tabulated information from the Environmental Working Group, which is critical of U.S. farm policy, shows that absentee landowners and investors receive subsidies that, in the public’s mind, go to struggling family farms. The U.S. Department of Agriculture last year sent nearly $100 million to cities with more than 500,000 residents.
Not very farmy communities in this area got in on the action. In Kansas City, Missouri, 1,611 recipients collected nearly $5 million in 2010. The city’s boundaries reach into four counties, so it stands to reason that the receivers include people who drive actual tractors and combines for a living. But zip code searches indicate that the subsidies are also being mailed to downtown addresses and people who live around the Plaza.
A little back of the envelope math tells us that each Kansas City recipient received just more than $3,100 on average. As The Pitch notes, many checks are probably supporting genuine family farmers, given the expansiveness of KC’s municipal boundaries. But on the Plaza? Not likely. Pick the right high-rise apartment and telescope, and maybe urban farmers can see their fields being tilled from afar. Is that the kind of situation legislators contemplated when they crafted the law that created the subsidies?
Naturally, agricultural tax breaks aren’t the only ones subject to the ingenuity of recipients, and the malleability of tax credit language can often make for easy (and profitable) contortions of a law’s intended purpose. Case in point: Saint Louis’ blighting of Del Taco. Fellow policy analyst Audrey Spalding has an indispensable post about how cities “blight” property to award tax subsidies. A sampling (emphasis added):
Colin Gordon, author of Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City highlights one of my favorite examples of a contorted blight finding: Officials blighted a thriving shopping mall because it didn’t have a Nordstrom’s.
Because every mall needs an eBar.
And, just because I can: