Urban Renewal is touted in Idaho as “the only economic development tool we have available”. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard elected officials repeat this same phrase. It is their excuse for taking property tax money and giving it as an incentive to developers. But I believe much of urban renewal is antithetical to healthy economic development. Let me explain why:
I am a capitalist. I am in favor of business bringing in new growth and development, while protecting both the property and fiscal rights of the existing citizens and businesses. And while urban renewal can be used cautiously in certain limited situations, giving away property tax money through urban renewal is not the most responsible way to attract business. Lowering the tax rate is.
Urban renewal gives property tax incentives to only select businesses, which opens it to possible misuse and corruption. It also creates an uneven playing field for competing businesses who have not received these incentives. And it raises the tax rates of all area citizens and companies because the tax incentives given away must be made up by increasing property taxes on everyone else.
Our local urban renewal agency in Coeur d’Alene, denies this description, but city officials in nearby Post Falls, admit it outright. They openly declare that “urban renewal raises taxes on everyone else”, which, they claim, is why they are so careful with its use. Detailed tax reports from the Kootenai County Treasurer also confirm the increased property tax impact of urban renewal.
I am tired of the creeping acceptance that socialistic government incentives are necessary for growth. If “Cash for Clunkers” taught us anything, it’s that once you offer a special deal, people don’t want to buy without one.
That’s what urban renewal has been doing for many years. Businesses now line up to pay homage to the urban renewal board, in hopes of getting millions in property tax incentives.
The power and money in our town is no longer located in City Hall but with the unelected LCDC urban renewal board. As the old saying goes, “ A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.” Following that logic, the LCDC can count on the support of nearly all public entities in the city as well as a number of influential developers. LCDC has bought their allegiance with our tax dollars.
Do not underestimate the financial and political power of urban renewal in our town and our state. They have more money right now than other groups, with the LCDC set to collect $5.2 million dollars in property tax increment this year alone, by their own estimation. LCDC has used public money to hire a Public Relations firm to make the public like them more. And they continually use property tax money to hire lobbyists in Boise to push against any changes in the antiquated, loop-hole filled, 1960s urban renewal law in Idaho.
Urban renewal in our city has focused on high-end luxury development to attract mainly temporary, seasonal visitors. But have these growth policies responsibly served the needs of the people? Our housing costs have skyrocketed, even considering the recent downturn, and low income or fixed income residents are struggling mightily. Existing businesses are also straining under the weight of the ever-increasing tax shifts onto commercial properties.
Unemployment in Coeur d’Alene is almost 10.5%, which is higher than the state average, and we now have an enormous backlog of unsold luxury condominiums crowding our beautiful public views.
With city elections coming up on November 3rd, our mayor and three council members answered questions in a candidate forum last week. They were all asked how they plan to deal with the city budget in this recession. The mayor suggested hiring an expert to teach them how to bring in jobs. (Spend more money!) One councilman, Mike Kennedy, proposed two new taxes. (Take more money!) While the remaining two painted a rosy picture of the the city, with no specific future plans. (It’s not our money!)
The challengers in each council/mayoral race touted career-level jobs as the greatest need in our town. And two of them even proposed the common sense idea of cutting taxes to attract new business and, thereby, jobs.
This is not rocket science, folks, it’s good, old-fashioned capitalism. It’s the basis upon which our country was founded.
We must take back the reigns of control in City Hall, elect new people and demand improved accountability. This is our city. This is our nation. And socialism has crept in far too deeply.
I don’t know how many of you watched businessman Steve Wynn, of Las Vegas, last Sunday on one of the morning news-talk shows, but he was great. He was talking about our national economy, which is a broader example, in my opinion, of what is happening here in CdA.
Mr. Wynn said this: “...the most powerful (economic) tool the government has is its tax policy. If the government had used its power to restrain its tax collection they would have given everybody who runs small businesses, large businesses, a chance to hire more people and that...would have made a big difference.
Government has never increased the standard of living of one single human being in civilization's history. For some reason that simple truth has evaded everybody. The only thing that creates an increased standard of living is giving someone a job...The people that are paying the price for this juggernaut of federal spending are the middle class and the working class of America.
Soaring rhetoric and great speeches with or without a teleprompter aren't going to change the truth, and the truth is: The biggest enemy, the biggest obstacle that working middle-class America has is government spending.” --Steve Wynn Oct. 12, 2009
Please get out now and vote early at the Elections office at 1808 N. 3rd Street or at City Hall. And please get 10 of your neighbors, friends, family and co-workers to vote also.
We need new people and fresh voices in City Hall.
Election day is November 3rd.
You CAN make a difference.
This is YOUR city!