Saturday, December 02, 2017

Lipstick on TIFs

City is Putting Lipstick on TIFs
Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 2, 2017, p. A6

The City Council is putting lipstick on its TIFs [see, "Andy Davis, "Iowa City Seeks Public Input as it Begins Discussion of Revised TIF Policies," November 18, 2017]. Like new headlights on a rusted-out clunker, it’s an improvement, but no reason to buy the car.
[Photo credit: Nicholas Johnson]

There are overwhelming reasons for not putting public money into private, for-profit projects [see, e.g., Nicholas Johnson, "Tussling Over TIFs: Pros and Cons," April 13, 2014, and Nicholas Johnson,"TIFs: Links to Blog Essays," March 16, 2014].

How else can the Council create public benefit? City ownership – like libraries, parks and schools. By applying zoning and building code requirements, or new ordinances, to private projects.

Iowa City is an economic and cultural magnet. We don’t have to bribe new arrivals.

Ah, the argument goes, if we don’t play this dirty little game some other city, or state, will get the business. (They may; it might also come here without TIFs.)

But what if, as the computer concluded in the movie War Games, "the only winning move is not to play"? Why do we want more growth and sprawl? What are TIFs’ costs as well as benefits?

In 1910 Houston was roughly Iowa City’s size today: 79,000. By 2010 it was 2,100,000. How have Houstonians’ quality of life improved from two million more people? Would we be happier with two million more neighbors?

That should be the first question.
Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City

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