Quality Jobs, Questionable TIFS, and Cameras, Cameras, Cameras
Over at the Columbia Daily Tribune they have a depressing article about the corruption of a bill to expand the otherwise top-notch "Quality jobs" program blogged about here back in February. The bill was initially intended to expand the program by increasing the available funds. Unfortunately, a host of other pet projects, TIF proposals, and other fun political handouts were added, creating another bloated piece of political hackery likely to have a difficult time making it through the legislature.
Particularly troublesome are the TIF provisions. This alleged tool for economic growth has been used quite often in STL, most notably in the construction of the new Busch Stadium and the promised Ballpark Village development. This means of spurring growth in struggling parts of the city has been touted as the most important tool cities have for this purpose. However, the policy is not without its critics, and one particular study about the practice in Chicago has called into question the cost-effectiveness of the measure.
I would argue that the best means for a city to spur growth lies not in its ability to hand out tax abatements to specific developers, but rather in its ability to provide an overall fertile business climate. Providing good infrastructure, secure property rights, and strong returns on investment (i.e. lowering the costs of doing business for everyone) encourages balanced and fair competition, whereas TIF projects only serve to spur the further erosion of the barrier between public officials and private interests by encouraging the latter to cozy up to the former in hopes of securing the TIF privelege.
There are two things MO legislators need to do: first, they need to untangle the "Quality Jobs" legislation from everything else, and make sure this program is as strong and effective as it can possibly be. Second, they need to seriously think about the real costs and benefits of TIF spending as relates to MO, the political convenience of such projects aside (I’m not holding my breath on that last point).
On an otherwise unrelated note, big props to my colleague Mr. Stokes on his post regarding gov’t surveillance, particularly those cameras atop every intersection. I’m pretty sure the standard of justice is "innocent until proven guilty." Putting cameras at every intersection undermines this principle and replaces it with the Orwellian maxim that we’re all guilty, and that justice is only a matter of who gets caught. Big Brother is watching…