Friday, July 27, 2012

The Tiff over TIFs

Mayor TIF Veto
Mayor Greg Ballard
The kumbaya atmosphere that the Indianapolis Star recently portrayed between the City-County Council and Mayor Greg Ballard a few weeks ago seems to have seen its campfire extinguished as partisan squabbling and legitimate concerns have taken over the campground.

Mayor Ballard has become Mayor Veto and has been killing Democratically-supported proposals to help support janitors and hotel workers as well as the legal redistricting plans the Democrats have passed with bipartisan support. Now some are taking some Democratic Councillors’ legitimate concerns over the expansion of TIF (Tax Increment Financing) districts as a retaliatory move.

My friend, Pat Andrews, has done extensive work exposing the problems with TIF Districts over on her blog, Had Enough Indy. Pat sometimes gets a bad rap from Republicans for being a partisan Democrat and from Democrats for bucking the slate and running for City-County Council At-Large in the 2011 Primary. The truth is that few people in Marion County really truly understand how TIFs work. Pat is a tireless advocate for neighborhoods.  You can see what she has to say on her blog, Had Enough Indy, linked here.

What I know is that while private business and developers tend to benefit from a TIF, local communities often suffer through the loss of tax revenue that could go back to things like schools, fire service, parks, and libraries. TIF districts take the property tax money collected within the TIF and turn that over for the development of a property. While it’s not strictly corporate welfare, it kind of is close, and, as Pat Andrews has pointed out, when no justification or data is generated for a particular TIF in a particular spot with a particular footprint, it does nothing to mollify concerns by the public.

There are other issues, too.  When the TIF collects more money than it needs, the money still does not go back to the local community. For example, the downtown TIF was raided last year by the Republican-led City-County Council and Mayor Ballard to prop up the budget.

Now Ballard has a point when he says that TIF districts have long been used to pay for the development of projects across Marion County and in the state. He’s absolutely right. As we have seen, though, the TIFs that are opened are rarely closed. Ways are found to continue to take that money away from the most local form of government and redistribute it elsewhere.

And, as we’ve seen in Decatur Township, when a development is found outside the TIF district that might actually help the tax base in a community, sometimes government agencies like the Airport Authority oppose them and try to bully private business out.

I’m willing to give Ballard the benefit of the doubt on more TIFs if he would at least examine the working conditions our janitors and hotel workers deal with on a daily basis. He also needs to give the Democratic Council a chance to do redistricting under the law. Until then, I’m going to assume that these new TIF districts are just more ways to help his campaign donors. After all, that’s probably what he thinks about things like the Freedom to Work proposal.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you are right to question the TIF use. First of all, I would never argue with Pat Andrews as she speaks from facts and figures and not from emotion or partisan politics. Fully 30% of the TIFs do not generate enough money to pay the annual bond payment. It has been nothing but a slush fund for the mayor and his contributors. In the meantime, Health and Hospital, librares, school systems and other taking units lose money at a time when money is really tight.