Mayor Lucas wants to streamline incentives

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marieantoinette
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Mayor Lucas wants to streamline incentives

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Article here: https://www.kansascity.com/opinion/edit ... 97135.html

"KC developers have too many paths to incentive handouts. Let Mayor Lucas streamline"
BY THE KANSAS CITY STAR EDITORIAL BOARD
FEBRUARY 12, 2021 05:00 AM


Kansas City’s effort to reform the way it hands out goodies to developers should take a big step forward in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, Mayor Quinton Lucas proposed consolidating the city’s many development incentive agencies into one group. It’s a good and important idea.

A one-stop shop would simplify the process for developers, even if it would make incentives more difficult to get. More importantly, a single commission would provide accountability when abatements and incentives are handed out.

“Having a unified board will allow us to more effectively coordinate and assess the impact, public benefit and financing of projects,” the mayor said in his state of the city address.

Anyone who doubts the truth of that statement should spend some time with the city’s tangled development structure. To start, let’s taste some alphabet soup: EEZ, LCRA, PIEA, TIFC, IDA, EDCLC, Port KC.

You’re not looking at some crazed version of Scrabble. Those letters stand for various boards and commissions with the authority to scrutinize and award public subsidies for private projects, including tax abatements, low-cost bonds, increment financing, tax credits, sales tax exemptions, earnings tax rebates and the like.

No one can possibly follow the work of all these groups. Developers have long taken advantage of that fact: If one board or commission opposes subsidies for the project, builders simply walk down the hall and knock on another door until they find someone who says yes.

Incentive-shopping is harmful in several ways. It hinders the ability of City Hall to coordinate incentive policy, because no one has a global understanding of who is getting what, or for what purpose.

It makes the process more opaque to the public and to elected members of the City Council. That makes it easier to steer multimillion-dollar projects through the council without facing real oversight.

The result is a serious distortion, and dilution, of the city’s incentive efforts. Money goes to projects for six-figure stockbrokers and wealthy apartment renters, while projects in distressed areas linger, or waste away.

This is precisely the opposite of what incentives are for. “We want growth. We want new jobs, new attractions,” Lucas said Wednesday. “But simply put, if the public is incentivizing development, that development should benefit the public.”

To his statement, we would add a requirement that incentives spur development in areas that actually need help. A first-class office building at 39th Street and Troost Avenue should get help; the same building downtown should not.

It may take some time for the Lucas initiative to pass. Missouri law may need to be adjusted to account for a new oversight mechanism, and we urge lawmakers to take those changes up if it becomes necessary.

We also want to see the exact details of how the new board will be created: Who’s on it? How many members? Who appoints the members? How transparent will it be? Lucas should outline those specifics soon.

Never underestimate the fierce pushback we are sure to see from developers and others who benefit from the alphabet soup approach. Millions of dollars are at stake.

But Kansas City needs to get a real grip on how it hands out cash for private projects. A single commission, empowered to see the big picture, is a good first step.

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