Sometimes people actually read the stuff I write on cincyopolis.
I know this because of a conversation with a neighbor on the way home from the Lytle Park Master Plan meeting before I left for Italy. My friend was really excited about the new park and looks forward to all the Western & Southern instigated changes in the Lytle Park Historic District, the hotels and restaurants, their future corporate headquarters and the residential tower. “It is going to work out fine,” I agreed – but immediately jumped headfirst into my “affordability” lecture about the use of tax-payer subsidy.
That’s when my neighbor used one of my own posts against me. “But it brings new jobs and income taxes go up,” he said. “I saw it on your chart.”
I remember my headline. Something about, “Good news, Cincinnati.” Just in case you were busy living your life, picking up kids at soccer games, doing the grocery shopping (the really important stuff), here’s my chart:
Cincinnati’s economic policies have been generating more income tax revenue over time. And compared to the rate of inflation, they out-performed. But they haven’t grown fast enough to keep up with our expenses. I will “spare us all another public records request” (that’s a direct Facebook quote from a city administrator – do you think they are getting slightly exasperated with me down at City Hall?) and not ask the finance department to pull the numbers for a comparable 30-year history of city expenses. But if you’ve lived here for more than a couple of years, you know those numbers intuitively. We’re always broke. Cincinnati never has enough money.
Our subsidies haven’t produced enough revenue to cover rising costs. This is not because City Hall is spending money like drunken sailors. They have cut everything they can cut – including 23% of their staff in a decade and pension benefits – and it’s still not enough. After 30 years of using incentives to buy jobs it costs more to maintain what we’ve got than we are taking-in.
We are not alone, Cincinnati. This state of affairs has been the norm all over the country. No-holds-barred real estate development financed with Tax Increment Financing has brought California to its knees and they have discontinued the practice. Here’s why:
This is the reality of of what happens when we buy jobs with never-ending subsidies. We freeze our income from real estate. (Insult to injury: For the last 15 years City Council has added an artificial cap on their share just in case any new property tax revenue miraculously sneaks through – which has got to be one of the most bone-head moves in the history of public policy decisions.) We don’t get the full benefit of new income taxes because we frequently give 65% of that away, too. All this infrastructure to support the new development needs to be maintained. Basic services have to be funded. Costs go up faster than the financial benefits coming in.
To all those who claim these tax breaks for corporations don’t really cost us anything, I say if it’s too good to be true, it is. We have to pay for all these shiny objects with real money, not promises of good things to come. Practice a new mantra, Cincinnati – please. Say it loud and say it proud: “We cannot afford to give away more than we take in.”