An ordinance proposed by Councilwoman Teresa Loar, could be described as providing more nuanced option on incentives. It also could be described as patronizing, tricky or desperate. The article is partially reproduced below.
Editor's Notebook: KC incentives cap question comes down to public's trust.
If you want to guarantee that Kansas City voters approve a measure to lower the cap on tax incentives for development, there’s a road map on file. An ordinance proposed by Councilwoman Teresa Loar, which she later pulled from a committee agenda, could be described as providing a more nuanced option for voters on the topic of incentives. It also could be described as patronizing, tricky or desperate.
Kansas City voters will be asked June 18 to select a new mayor — and whether to approve a citizens initiative that would cap tax abatements from the city’s major agencies and programs at 50 percent, with no exceptions. The City Council passed a 75 percent cap in 2016 that does make exceptions for projects in long-distressed areas and certain “high impact” projects.
Loar’s proposal would add one more question to the June 18 ballot. It would ask voters to delay the effective date of any new caps on economic incentives enacted after June 17 until bordering counties in Kansas pass similar caps.
I understand the concern underlying Loar’s attempt, and I share that concern. But the message is akin to patting the heads of voters worried about city incentives and saying: “There, there. You just don’t understand.”
The very reason there’s an incentives cap on the ballot is that a sizable group of Kansas Citians don’t trust the city to exercise self-control. The City Council fed this narrative when it tried to monkey with the date of a vote. Loar’s proposal, even if it never goes to a council vote (after getting publicity), provides another reason to argue that the city can’t be left to its own devices.
Development and business leaders must not underestimate the appeal of the 50 percent incentives cap or its supporters. Although we can point to the rebirth of Downtown as a result of incentives, it’s also easy to ask why other parts of the city haven’t received the same help, and why the city can give away money that would go to schools and libraries even when they object.
If you want evidence that voters care about taxes and the opinions of school districts, review the results of the recent vote on a tax to fund pre-K education in Kansas City. Of course, if you want an example of how to overcome initial objections and distrust of government, you can look at the debate about a new airport terminal.
Mayor Sly James ended a lengthy effort to win support for a terminal because of a lack of political support. But the tide turned after an extensive education campaign in which groups including the Kansas City Area Development Council, Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and Civic Council of Greater Kansas City reached out directly to businesses and groups of all sizes.
City officials, business groups and civic organizations have two months to make clear arguments outlining how Kansas Citians (not developers or big companies) benefit from incentives and, as important, how the city’s 75 percent cap exhibits self-control while allowing for flexibility. And keep in mind that if those opposed to the 50 percent cap want to win at the polls, they must win back the trust of voters.