Audrey Spalding
The Columbia Missourian has published an overview of the statewide use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF), a development subsidy that is growing in popularity. The article provides a detailed overview, and the Missourian has posted excellent data online. Unfortunately, Columbia City Manager Mike Matthes, in his comments, seems to be fond of revising TIF history.

Matthes cited Independence, a suburb near Kansas City, as an example of a community that has enjoyed success with TIFs. I wonder if he was referring to the Bass Pro TIF in Independence that has failed. The city of Independence has had to kick in more than $4.1 million to cover bond payments associated with the project.

Matthes also said that "(TIF) does prevent and eliminate blight" and "it does increase property value and tax revenue over time." Though the Missourian highlighted a TIF in North Kansas City that is characterized as successful, it failed to mention the notorious Citadel TIF in nearby Kansas City.

In late 2011, Kansas City officials voted to pay $15 million to purchase property that had been razed and contaminated with asbestos. The Citadel site now sits vacant, and is an example of a TIF project that made an area much, much worse, instead of eliminating so-called blight.

Moreover, earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal characterized Kansas City's downtown entertainment TIF development, the Power & Light Development, as a "budget hole." The Journal reports that the Power & Light Development is generating less than one-third of the tax revenue needed to cover debt costs associated with the project. As a result, Kansas City is setting aside $12.8 million to make up the difference.

On the eastern side of the state, TIF does not look much better. Matthes' statement that TIF eliminates blight and increases tax revenue over time ignores the findings of a multi-year study of TIF and other development subsidies in the Saint Louis area that those subsidies were frequently concentrated in "higher-income communities." The same study found that retail jobs associated with TIF projects came at a cost of more than $370,000 in taxpayer dollars.

Those findings are not surprising: Years earlier, the Brookings Institution concluded that TIF in Missouri ". . . is used extensively in high-tax-base Missouri suburban areas with little need for assistance . . ."

Perhaps I am being unfair. When Matthes said that TIF has proven to eliminate blight, he may have been referring to the TIF awarded to a Saint Louis area mall. The mall was deemed "blighted" because it lacked a Nordstrom's. I suppose, because the West County Mall now has a Nordstrom's, one could consider the "blight" removed.

About the Author

Audrey Spalding