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HYPOCRI$Y? REDI pushes tax hikes for some, big breaks for others

Will more property tax breaks really help Columbia's kids?      
 
COLUMBIA, 1/26/12  (Beat Byte) --  In the annals of the ill-advised, Columbia Public School Superintendent Chris Belcher's 2010 editorial in the Columbia Business Times with REDI chairman Dave Griggs stands out. 
 
With neither the knowledge nor consent of the school board, Dr. Belcher touted the benefits of TIFs and other developer tax incentives, widely criticized for the property tax money they siphon from public schools.  
 
The editorial shed light on thinking that seems wholly distorted.  Given the school district's long-running narrative about tight funding -- and the big push for a levy increase this April -- why would the school district's top leader ever join forces with a business lobby to advocate ways to reduce that funding even further? 
 
TIFs, in particular, target school funding's most important source -- property taxes.    
 
Now REDI -- Columbia Regional Economic Development -- is pushing to create so-called "Enhanced Enterprise Zones" featuring even more property tax abatements on a larger scale.  Property owners in the designated zones would "benefit from a 50% property tax abatement for 10 years," a Missourian article last week notes, that "could create jobs and help public schools" (emphasis on COULD). 

Cutting the spin for a moment, the proposed breaks would have to create high-paying jobs that support many more homeowners to make up for the property taxes lost.  Beyond temporary construction work, developer tax incentives in Columbia tend to create low-paying service sector employment. 
 
A more effective tax abatement plan would reduce income or sales taxes.  Property tax abatements go to property owners, and the likelihood that startup entrepreneurs or small businesses will also own property is always low.  More likely, businessses in the tax abatement zone will lease space from developers who will get all the tax breaks.  
 
At the same time, Dr. Belcher and REDI are pushing property tax increases and $100 million more in bond debt to be paid and financed by the community at large. 
 
REDI just endorsed the CPS bond and tax proposals, a move that struck many Tribune readers as odd, especially given what the Trib article about it said:  
 
"REDI, made up of area business and government leaders, works to recruit new businesses and expand existing businesses, often crafting packages that include property tax breaks for the companies."  
 
In the end, this song-and-dance sounds like the old "two sets of rules" problem once again.  "We want to pay lower property taxes,"  prominent business leaders cry.  "But we want everyone else to pay higher property taxes."  
 
It is the kind of manipulative maneuvering that makes Columbia residents resent business leadership groups like REDI and the Chamber of Commerce.  Too bad they won't advocate lower taxes for everyone and help our schools dramatically lower their cost of doing business, and in turn, reduce CPS' skyrocketing indebtedness. 
 
 
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