Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sullivan, TIFs, Wellmark, Naming, Weapons

September 18, 2007, 11:45 a.m., 7:30 p.m. -- Additions (bottom of page) of video of campus police Taser incident Sept. 17 and Kent State Massacre in 1970!!

TIFs, Tiffs, and Sullivan

Rod Sullivan for Supervisor

Every once in awhile a public official comes along who is so outstanding in every way that it is hard for citizen-taxpayers to even fully understand, let alone appreciate, what they have.

Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan is such an official.

Name a positive adjective and it fits: bright, courageous, hard working, creative, leadership, compassionate, friendly, articulate, thoughtful, giving . . . the list is endless.

And there are two reasons why I mention that today. One is that he's just announced his campaign for re-election to a second term on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors. Kathryn Fiegen, "Sullivan decides to seek another term," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 18, 2007, p. A3.

The other is an item in his weekly "Sullivan's Salvos," Monday's edition. (It's available to you, as a free email if you're not already a subscriber: Just email rodsullivan@mchsi.com with "subscribe" in the subject line.) Not incidentally, while we're raving about Sullivan, this is in my opinion the single most useful of all the e-zines and email services maintained by any public official.

Not only does it keep you up to date on what Johnson County (and other counties) are doing, it contains personal items, and other informational pieces as well.

Wellmark Joins Doctors, singing: "Taxpayers, can you spare a dime?"

["Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" Songs of the Great Depression ("Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time./Once I built a railroad; now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?)]

For example, yesterday's edition of "Sullivan's Salvos" contained the following:
A GREAT book for anyone who might be interested is The Great American Jobs Scam by Greg LeRoy. Are you tired of hearing about governments giving our tax dollars to big corporations so they can "retain jobs"? Me, too.

LeRoy debunks several common myths, such as "Company X would have left the community but for these incentives." LeRoy writes at length about the myths of TIF, Enterprise Zones, and many other common economic development tools used by municipalities in the name of growth.

The book offers important suggestions to the tax code that State lawmakers can use to protect our interests, such as combined reporting. This book also notes the work of UI Professors Peter Fisher and Alan Peters.

I urge everyone to read this book, then ask your state and local elected officials to read it as well. It is available at local libraries.
And speaking of TIFs, the Press-Citizen offered a well-written and balanced assessment of the proposed $600,000 subsidy for doctors on this morning's editorial page: Editorial, "TIF is the Wrong Prescription for Surgery Center," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 18, 2007, p. A11. (Why "balanced"? Because the paper sets forth the reasons for supporting the hand-out offered by the "Iowa City economic development staff . . . [because of the ] cumulative effect of a number of smaller reasons . . .." And the editorial repeats, "We've always asserted that [TIFs] can be a good tool when used effectively." My position has increasingly become that there is no worthwhile, benefit-cost-risk-justified basis for arguing their "effective" use in any circumstances.)

Want another example of outrageous corporate subsidies?

Since Wellmark is back in this morning's news anyway, here's a story from last Saturday reporting the generous contribution Des Moines recently dropped in the insurance company's tin cup. S.P. Dinnen and David Elbert, "Wellmark to build downtown; $175 million headquarters planned; incentives lead company to reject W.D.M. site," Des Moines Register, September 15, 2007.

Here are some of the details:
Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield will build a new $175 million headquarters in downtown Des Moines . . ..

Des Moines will provide a number of incentives . . .. [Des Moines] City Manager Rick Clark . . . declined to put a dollar amount on the incentives . . . , but [Wellmark Group Vice President Cliff] Gold said the combination of state and local incentives is more than $10 million.

. . .

The city's incentives will be in four areas, Clark said.

- The city will shoulder the burden of straightening out High Street to provide a little more room for the project.

- Eventually, the city will help extend the downtown skywalk to the building. That may take some time because the nearest connection now is at Ninth Street and Grand Avenue.

- Some type of mass transit encouragement for Wellmark employees to take the bus will be included.

- Tax increment financing will be use to rebate some property tax money to Wellmark. Clark declined to say how much TIF money might be involved.

Among other things, he said, TIF money will be used to make the new building LEED certified, a designation for buildings that are energy-efficient and use environmentally friendly building technology.

The city could also use TIF money to pay some of the cost of removing chemicals from the property now occupied by a dry cleaner.

The city will work with businesses located in the area to find new locations within the city, Clark said. City officials also helped negotiate the sale of parcels of land on the building site not owned by Iowa Health Systems.

. . .

Wellmark has more modest growth plans - perhaps as many as 100 new employees in the next few years, according to Gold. . . .

Advantages to a downtown site include a central location, access to transportation and sticking to a 68-year history with the central business district, Gold said. . . .

Gold said that Wellmark has adequate resources to pay for constructing the building and equipping it.

"We don't think we'll need to borrow," he said.
Note the following:

(1) At best, these corporate subsidies accomplished no more than shifting a building from West Des Moines to downtown Des Moines -- a classic example of intra-Iowa (in this case intra-city!) competition producing no benefit whatsoever for Iowa's taxpayers.

(2) Claims of significant new job creation are often inflated or downright bogus. In this case they were virtually non-existent with a "modest growth" possibility of 100 low wage jobs -- "perhaps."

(3) The real reasons for this corporate decision, as is almost always the case, involved factors other than bribery with taxpayers' money -- as the company's executives revealed they wanted the downtown location because of "a central location, access to transportation and sticking to a 68-year history with the central business district."

(4) Moreover, they didn't need the money. In addition to the fact that they earlier had enough spare pocket change to invest in a 66-acre urban plot they ended up not using, as Wellmark's Executive Vice President Gold put it, "Wellmark has adequate resources to pay for constructing the building and equipping it" and "We don't think we'll need to borrow." Not only does it not sound like low income housing (one of TIFs' original purposes) it doesn't even sound like a gold-plated corporate tin cup in need of additional funds from the taxpayers.

And speaking of Wellmark buildings . . .

. . . UI President Sally Mason would prefer not to have a policy on building naming.

The Regents decided to postpone coming up with a naming policy, but Mason is quoted as saying, "I would prefer our hands not be tied and we look at it on a case-by-case basis."

Sounds like we may be in for weapons in the hands of campus police AND corporate names on UI's building -- "on a case-by-case basis," of course.

Erin Jordan, "Regents Seek New Naming Policy," Des Moines Register, September 18, 2007, 9:34 a.m. ("New U of I president Sally Mason said last week that the Regents and the universities should remain flexible on the issue. 'I would prefer our hands not be tied and we look at it on a case-by-case basis,' Mason told Des Moines Register editors and reporters Friday.")

Brian Morelli, "Regents Discuss Naming Rights, Postpone Decision," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 18, 2007, 10:02 a.m.

Senator Joins Fruitless Call for Research and Balance on Campus Weapons Issue

Since the Regents are also looking at providing their campus police officers with deadly weapons I thought I might add today that four days ago I wrote, "the evidence [regarding weapon-toting campus police] was, at best, equally divided as to whether arming campus police would make the UI community safer or more dangerous. The discussion of the issue was not driven by academic inquiry, data -- or even a traditional debate format -- with spokespersons putting forward their best case. It was permitted to be driven by those who advocated bringing more guns onto the campus." Nicholas Johnson, "On Point, Politics, Psychology, Police and Public Relations" in "Politics and Psychology," September 14, 2007.

This morning we read that a much more authoritative -- but probably no more persuasive -- source is making similar suggestions: "In a Sept. 10 letter addressed to Iowa State University President Gregory Geoffroy and later sent to the nine members of the Iowa state Board of Regents, Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said the report lacked data-driven analysis, trends in campus crime, assessment of risks and an analysis of possible effects of such a change." Brian Morelli, "Senator questions security report; Quirmbach: Recommendations lack thoroughness, objectivity," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 18, 2007.

Given Governor Chet Culver's last minute jump on the well-armed bandwagon (because of Virginia Tech), my "Politics and Psychology" analysis of this groundswell seems more and more correct with every passing day. Associated Press, "Culver Favors Arming Campus Police," Des Moines Register, September 18, 2007, 10:48 a.m. ("He [Governor Culver] says the shootings on the Virginia Tech campus in April highlights the need for serious consideration of security on college campuses.")

To no one's surprise, the Regents have now come down with a "firm, possible maybe" on the issue:
The Iowa Board of Regents delayed a final decision to arm campus police for at least a month. The board unanimously approved a motion to develop a comprehensive safety and security plan for Iowa's three public universities. That plan would be approved at a future meeting. The board then voted 7-1 to allow a provision as part of that policy allowing campus police officers to carry firearms in the regular course of duties. Before Regent Michael Gartner voted on the second motion, he clarified that the decision to arm police could still be reversed with a future vote on the comprehensive safety plan.
Erin Jordan, "Regents Delay Armed Campus Police Decision," Des Moines Register, September 18, 2007, 11:39 a.m.

On the other hand, they are far from unanimous:
Regent Ruth Harkin of Cumming says there are many other issues that go into a secure campus, and it's difficult to single out arming campus police. "I just wouldn't want to give the impression that we think we have responded to the security call by voting on a firearms policy," Harkin says. The board asked its staff to develop a comprehensive security plan that would include arming campus officers.

The only Regent to voice opposition to the idea - Rose Vasquez of Des Moines - says the issue shouldn't be bundled into a larger plan. Vasquez says she's ready to vote on arming officers, saying she's opposed to arming the officers and it won't have anything to do with not beefing up security measures. Vasquez says even after hearing from the directors of the three public safety departments about the threats that face campus police, she did not favor arming the officers.

Vasquez says, "There was no situation that sort of rose up or elevated itself to a level that but for a gun, things would have been different."
Darwin Danielson, "Regents Delay Decision on Arming Campus Police," Radio Iowa, September 18, 2007, 3:17 p.m.

Think, Students: Do you Really Want More Weapons on Campus?

Students can be a real source of trouble for university administrators.

Sometimes it can be because of what the students do. Other times because of what they say -- or think -- the signs they carry, or the sit-ins they organize.

So while I've never had any difficulty understanding why university administrators would want more, and better armed, police to protect whatever they may find threatening at any given moment, I'm really bewildered as to why students would want more fully armed "authority" with which to deal.

Here's why.

Witness this event from last evening (September 17), demonstrating how the campus police at Florida University, Gainesville, made students "safer" on that campus when one was in the process of asking former Senator John Kerry a question:

That student in the video, Andrew Meyer, can be grateful that his campus police chose to limit the pain they inflicted to a taser. Based on his screams, however, it sounded like they were pushing tasers to their limits.

When guns are brought onto a campus to control students the results are both painful and deadly. In the case of the Kent State Massacre, where armed national guard troops were used, the results were four dead students and nine injured from gunshot wounds.

For those students not old enough to have lived through the Kent State Massacre of May 4, 1970, you might want to review the video below. Because it starts with President Nixon's speech, just substitute "President George W. Bush" for "President Richard Nixon," "Iraq" for "Vietnam," and "Iran" for "Cambodia" to bring it up to date and make it easier to relate to.

Here's another take on those events, from "Democracy Now."

You can't imagine how much safer I feel, knowing that soon the UI will also have access to the weapons necessary to control unruly students.

# # #


Anonymous said...

Calls to the UIDPS for assistance are most likely to be from student residences and UIHC with very few from classroom and office buildings.

Rents are high in Iowa City/Coralville and students tend to live in low income housing areas. Most Iowa City calls for police assistance come from the downtown zone and from low income housing neighborhoods. If students become a crime victim the location if the offense is most likely to be downtown or at a residence or work place.
Protection of the safety of the students is therefore a joint effort on the part of UIDPS, Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty police. If the students live in a rural trailer park the Sheriff's office also is involved.

For students the risk of a homicide is not as small
as Senator Quirmbach seems to think. The risk of assault is about the same as others in their age group and the risk of sexual assault may be higher than for those in their age group. Sexual exploitation and harassment are underreported so it is difficult to evaluate the relative risk of that type of behavior.

When you evaluate risk to the safety of the students you need to look at the entire community not just the campus.

Anonymous said...

Rod is a nice guy, but Johnson County needs a County Manager and to reduce the role of supervisors to that similar of a city councilor. You have well intentioned people simply not qualified to run an organization the size and complexity of Johnson County Government. The League of Women Voters in Johnson County knows this, and should insist upon it. With a County Manager, the Newport Road issue never would have been the mess it turned in to.

Anonymous said...

The ranting about TIF's is borderline moronic. Even if the State of Iowa outlawed them, other states or countries certainly would use incentives like TIF to attract business. The State of Iowa has a HARD ENOUGH TIME COMPETING NOW.

Another case here of "Those that can't do teach".

You don't like it, get a job as a city manager or mayor and repeal them in your town. See how that goes.

Unknown said...

I agree with you support of Rod Sullivan. You might also add that you can hear most of his recent Salvos at cornsong.com

Anonymous said...

What is the risk of student homicide ON CAMPUS? When was the last student homicide at the Univ of Iowa (I suspect it was 1972, and an armed police force would have made no difference because the crime was never solved).

I say student homicide, because we know about the sad tragedy in Physics. Would an armed campus police have prevented that? No.

The expense of arming and training the campus cops will simply add the the cost of school, with little added benefit.

People are once again succumbing to the politics of fear rather than a politics of reason. With the city cops and sheriff so close an armed campus force is frankly stupid and dangerous.

On the other hand, one might argue that the City cops cannot even solve an on-going sex abuse case that presents itself almost weekly.

(geez might the cops actually solve that one before we turn them lose with weapons???)

Anonymous said...

Why is the rant against corporate welfare 'moronic'? Is the wish to let Wellmark and their corporate peers simply rob the taxes payers?

I have never seen so much frank corporate bad behavior in 50 years. The corporations like Wellmark think they are entitled to the public largess. And threaten to leave if the coffers are not turned over to them.

Sickening how the book from the 70s 'America Incorporated' has come to pass.

Anonymous said...

In a sense ash is right, stopping the TIF parade would be unilateral disarmament in the battle to bring jobs to the state. But isn't that just evidence of the assbackwards priorities that result when libertarian rhetoric prevails? Governments compete, corporations set the standards?

The context here is the lack of anti-trust legislation on the federal level. That allows individual states and localities to compete for the business of corporations who cooperate in trade groups that lobby for “de-regulation”.

Note that this is a market-based critique of libertarian rhetoric, not a socialist or Marxist critique. The markets work for the benefit of all when businesses compete against each other and only governments can regulate the markets to that end.

Another name for the situation we find ourselves in is corporatism; socialism for the rich and competition for the scraps for the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

Its not a Libertarian Philosophy at all. In fact I think if you went to the Cato Institute, you would likely agree. It is more a realpolitik view.

My main point is that its pointless to complain, because it is not going to change. Getting rid of TIF on the State level is akin to economic development suicide. Even if you passed federal legislation, it would just shift offshore.

It is the market the way it is. There is no truly free market. The conditions for a free market exist nowhere. There are a variety of things, government and otherwise that cause this. It depends on the market you are talking about for a particular good or service.

The key as a civic leader is evaluating using TIF and other incentives wisely and having good policies in place. For instance, perhaps a project will only qualify for TIF if it creates X number of quality jobs or is at least X in terms of tax base size.

As for the scraps for the rest of us; We all like to complain, yet we expect our retirement 401k's to return 10+% a year.

It is always easier to blame someone else. Nothing in life is that easy.