“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” — source unclear
When it comes to telling lies on behalf of Columbia City Government and its corporate masters, Mike Mathes is no slouch. Rumors surrounding the firing of Zim Schwartz aside, there is little doubt that Mathes is willing to say or do anything to bring large-scale Tax Increment Financing to Columbia. His rabid, pro-corporate welfare whirlwind of half-truths and lies has many Columbians wondering, “What is Mathes smoking?”
(For a quick wiki-breakdown of TIFs, click HERE. In a nutshell, instead of paying taxes to the government, the developer/business gets to collect tax, but pocket the proceeds to offset the cost of development.)
To tell you the truth, I really had high hopes for the guy when he was hired. He seemed reasonable, likable, and fiscally responsible and even expressed some ‘off the record’ opinions that had the civil libertarian in me almost giddy with delight. That, however, was before he stepped up as Columbia’s Champion of Corporate Welfare, weaving a web of lies so tangled it boggles the mind.
Mathes has been pitching his love of TIFs to anyone who will listen and he seems to have convinced Superintendent Chris Belcher that TIFs will actually bring funding to the Columbia Public Schools. This proposal is, of course, laughable to anyone who has studied the relationship of TIFs and school funding.
“I’ve said publicly you can’t have a strong community without strong schools,” he said.
Belcher said although there are several types of TIF proposals, this one makes “everyone have a little skin in the game.”
“Their success benefits us,” he said.
The only problem is, TIFs usually aren’t successful. It sure looks like the TIF for the Tiger Hotel has been a failure, while Laverick lives it up on the public dime.
When Mathes met with County leaders to peddle his TIF plan, he told the biggest doozy of a lie yet. He actually – I’m not kidding – made the claim that the Kansas City Power and Light District is an example of of great TIF success.
Benefits of TIF districts include the creation of a pool of money to invest in the district, the prevention of blight and an increase in property values, Matthes said. Improvements could be funded for infrastructure and aesthetic upgrades. He pointed to successful TIF projects such as the Power and Light District in Kansas City.
Mathes made this comment less than a month after the Wall Street Journal called the Power and Light District Kansas City’s “Budget Hole.”
Today, the project, which sits near the onetime headquarters of Kansas City Power & Light Co., generates less than one-third of what is needed to cover the debt service on the bonds. The city is setting aside $12.8 million in its budget for the fiscal year that starts next month to cover the gap, a notable hole in a $1.3 billion budget that calls for $7.6 million in cuts to the fire department.
As Mathes surely knows, Columbia is already having trouble funding an adequate fire department, let alone its pension fund. If he thinks Power and Light is an example of success, what on Earth might he consider a failure?
Heck, surely Mathes read the Show-Me Institute piece entitled, Revisionist TIF History From Columbia’s City Manager, in which policy analyst Audrey Spalding takes Mathes to task on his wild TIF claims and makes mention of the Kansas City Power and Light debacle. Regardless of reality, it seems to be full steam ahead for the Mathes TIF train.
There is little doubt that giant TIFs are in the works for Columbia. During a February Council Meeting, First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt expressed an interest in applying a giant TIF to the entire First Ward.
Plans to develop a TIF district that would encompass the entire First Ward remain in their infancy. Schmidt, however, said the approach would allow the city to improve urban density, provide infill housing, bury power lines along Business Loop 70 and pursue a backlog of stormwater retention measures.
The bigger problem with these blanket TIF districts, besides the fact that developers often take the money and run leaving the taxpayers holding the bag, is that the TIF process is often used for “urban renewal.” In these urban renewal schemes, private property is often condemned and purchased for below-market value or seized by the government only to be handed over to developers. In Columbia, plans for a new hotel and convention center in the North Central Neighborhood area of the First Ward are rumored to have been discussed. Wouldn’t a blanket TIF make this plan more likely to come to fruition? While a new hotel and convention center might sound wonderful, it would require the removal of a great deal of North Central affordable housing.
The good news is that Columbia is waking up to the evils of these egregious corporate tax swindles. The proposed Enhanced Enterprise Zone tax abatement scheme currently being pushed by a few powerful, elitist business people is but the latest example. Fresh on the heels of Moberly’s Mamtek fiasco, REDI, a quasi-public/private entity with considerable influence at City Hall, has proposed a similar plan for Columbia: the EEZ. This move has sparked strong grassroots opposition from across the political spectrum. The fight should be fun to watch as the people of Columbia wake up to the fact that their government is controlled by profit-seeking paternalists.