Back when I was growing up the term “trickle down” had an entirely different meaning. It was what happened when my younger brothers couldn’t make it to the outhouse on time.
Today, trickle-down economics continues to be promoted by Idaho’s political class. Sometimes the name is different as we are now being sold on the virtues of “public private partnerships” or on “urban renewal”. I submit that no matter the title, the method continues to be based on trickle-down economics which is nothing more than the philosophy of “take care of the well-connected and they’ll take care of you.” The effect is the very same that happened with my brothers. Someone gets soaked! In this case, it’s the taxpayers.
Since we are all getting soaked, let’s go and take a closer look by examining the latest urban renewal project. Why would the City of Meridian designate 300 acres of farmland as an urban renewal district when it isn’t urban and it isn’t in need of renewal?
That’s when things got complicated as I learned that through urban renewal developers can have property tax pay for the infrastructure – roads, water, and sewer. The way in which property taxes do that is a bit complicated but we have a few experts in our area who can walk the citizens through the math. One is the Caldwell Guardian and the other is the Boise Guardian. Both sites have background information and respond quickly to requests for additional information.
Basically how urban renewal works is that a baseline is established. When property values increase the difference goes to the urban renewal district. This is a subsidy for the developer as he does not have to pay for the costs of bringing in the infrastructure. However with growth come other costs if the growth brings in additional people. More people require homes, and more homes and people need schools, police, and fire protection. How does that get funded? Look no further than the mirror. Yep! It would be you. In fact look no further than the Fiscal Year 2016 and 2017 budget summaries and you will see a significant increase AND what appears to deficit spending.
Beginning to understand the math? Let’s review. To begin with you, the taxpayer “agrees” through your local city council person when they vote. When your city council votes 4-0 to fund urban renewal, you essentially agree to a long range plan to shift some property tax revenue. That revenue is off the table. When other needs associated with growth arise then the city digs into their reserve (spell d-e-f-i-c-i-t spending), at some point taxes go up, and you are asked to dig deeper into your pocket to balance the books.
Let’s consider another way the taxpayers get soaked – private public partnerships or some iteration of said arrangement. Consider the “Hill”. This creature was birthed by the Albertson Foundation. Four million dollars of seed money was “donated” to the YMCA and the idea of a public library, a YMCA, city park, and elementary school was hatched. Land was donated and it seems accurate to assume that a nice tax write off followed for the parties involved.
When the idea was first presented to the public, as a West Ada School District bond, the public was not informed of the details. The library had not even committed when the ballots were printed. Needing a school for a burgeoning population, WASD proposed and passed a bond for a new elementary school. There were just a few problems as the board of trustees took note that no one checked to see if there was a road, electricity, water or sewer. We all know how that turned out. The trustees who asked questions were rewarded with a recall.
Meanwhile the needs of children did not go away and the current board is working hard to make the project work. Of course the new elementary lacks a library and gym. So that is where you the tax payers come in (again). Actually you already came in as the City of Meridian bought the HomeCourt YMCA in September for a cool $4 million of your dollars. A few months later the city advertised for staff to run the facility. Yep. More of your dollars at work!
Continuing on; the four million of your dollars goes to help fund the YMCA facility that is planned for the “Hill”. Recall that this scheme came about as a result of a four million donation from the local philanthropy which is noted for giving seed money to willing participants who then find themselves on the hook for the rest of the project. So, what is the rest of the project?
Well, lady and gentleman tax payer, let’s go there. We have a library bond and a WARD aquatic center bond on the November 8 ballot. Remember that this plan was to have saved money. Former Superintendent Linda Clark sums it up in her interview published by EdWeek when she describes a proposed elementary school budgeted at $12 million that will now cost $10 million because of the shared-use approach. What was left out was that you the taxpayer are on the hook for the other parts of that “shared use”.
Recent decisions have left me wondering whether we support large scale developers at the expense of those who live and work in Meridian. Do we subsidize growth while leaving the tax payers on the hook for the associated costs that come with that growth? I think it’s time to return to uncomplicated school bonds and it’s time to demand that our city council pull back from funding options for growth that resemble hedge funds and derivatives. The only thing I see trickling down is taxes.