Sunday, May 2, 2010

SUPER SHOCKER! Supt. Belcher pushes tax breaks that could harm schools

COLUMBIA, 5/2/10  (Beat Byte) --  Talk about throwing fresh chum into a pool of hungry sharks!

Appearing with local business maestro Dave Griggs in this week's Columbia Business Times, Columbia Public Schools (CPS) superintendent Chris Belcher has joined a chorus pushing for -- of all things -- tax breaks for big developers.

In his bi-weekly "Superintendent's View" column, Belcher (left) made the case for so-called Chapter 100 Bonds and Tax Increment Financing (TIFs), anathema to members of the Columbia School Board and many other community interests. 

Acknowledging that "public schools do not want to lose the tax base," Belcher nonetheless conceded that "economic developers want the tools to compete with other communities for a more diversified economic base."

He then spoke for the entire school district.   

"The Columbia Public School District supports economic development and the strategic use of incentives," Belcher wrote.  "Chapter 100 bonds provide an opportunity for economic growth while strengthening the tax base for public services. TIF provides an important tool for funding infrastructure development projects."

But CPS Board member Ines Segert (below) said the school district has traditionally opposed such "incentives." 

She questioned Belcher's representation and said, to her knowledge, board members had not seen his op-ed prior to publication.  News of this latest op-ed was a surprise, Segert said.  Past Belcher columns have almost solely promoted school district initiatives.

"I'm on the record as firmly opposing TIFs and incentives that take property tax dollars out of our schools and away from our students," Segert explained.  

Referring to recent TIF-funded projects in downtown Columbia, "When we were asked about TIFs last year, to a person, school board members expressed opposition," Segert said.

acing historically difficult budgets, Columbia Public Schools is already swamped with an alphabet-soup-tax-break tidal wave of TDDs, TIFs, CIDs, Chapter 100 bonds, and the Schauwecker Discount -- virtually non-existent property taxes in Boone County for valuable development land cleverly classified as "farmland."   

Many large, powerful players -- some of whom live out of state -- haven't the same vested interest in the success of the school district, and they game the system accordingly. 

When schools suffer, property values may decline.  But the real vested interest --
and the dirty little secret of all this "tax incentive talk" -- is that responsibility for getting the funds flowing falls to the average home and business owner. 

The tax breaks Belcher and Griggs advocate will help larger, wealthier, and more politically powerful interests, with a trickle-down effect, at best, for the average small business person, who would benefit far more from an easier road at City or County Hall; a reduction in license fees; and lower income/employment taxes. 

After all, just to get TIF consideration in Columbia, a firm must pony up $10,000.00 to City Hall

ven Columbia Daily Tribune publisher Hank Waters -- traditionally a supporter of big special interests -- firmly condemned TIFs, calling for their elimination in a powerfully-worded 2006 op-ed. 

TIFs are "a form of bribery for developers at the expense of school districts," Waters wrote.  "
Under this misbegotten scheme, local authorities can approve diversion of property tax revenues arising from development projects to the owner instead of the public agencies otherwise entitled to the money....What has happened is the growth of a misguided bribery contest among cities, counties and states to match each other with tax incentives."

But Belcher and Griggs beg to disagree. 

"Economic development is a very competitive endeavor," they write.  "
This competitive landscape requires communities to be prepared to use incentives to lure the quality new business and industries that are desired. Tax incremental financing and Chapter 100 bonds are two common means in which communities can offer incentives to encourage the location of new business to an area."

1 comment:

  1. Belcher's from sprawldom. Who's surprised?