Writers at the Show-Me Institute have been railing against the subsidy culture of Kansas City for years. A wide range of private developments have received subsidies, including private world headquarters buildings with questionable job creation claims, hotel subsidies despite (indeed because of) a saturated market, luxury apartment high rises, and entertainment districts that merely moved jobs around the city, to name a few. But there may be reasons to think this is all coming to an end.
- The Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Commission diverted from its usual rubber-stamping to say no to an outrageous request to subsidize a luxury hotel downtown.
- A vote to approve a proposal to dump a bunch of public money into an office tower has been repeatedly delayed by the city council. Not only is this a speculative risk for the city, the numbers used by proponents are wrong.
- More recently, and immediately after the Show-Me Institute published a call to do so, the deal to bring the USDA to Kansas City was reworked to cap public investment by reducing the port authority’s windfall.
- More promising for the long term, Mayor Lucas appointed former councilmember Alissia Canady to head the TIF Commission as well as appointing some current council members to the commission. Putting elected officials on the commission should make the commission more responsive to voter concerns, and Canady herself has been consistent in her willingness to oppose some incentive projects.
There is a great deal more to be done to rein in the incentives culture in Kansas City. Among other things, we need a legitimately independent study of incentives and their impact, the recent city effort having been an absolute debacle. But based on the past few weeks, there is reason to be guardedly optimistic.