- Pennsylvania Among 'Terrible 10' Most Regressive Tax States
- February 4 Non-Partisan Training: HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013: HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Republican Governors Opt-In to Medicaid Expansion
- The Reports of Unions' Death Are Greatly Exaggerated
- Ask Allyson Schwartz to run for Governor
- Mind the gap: Opting Out of Medicaid Expansion Leaves Low-income Families Behind
- Jan. 14 Workshop:HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013; HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Seth Williams on Guns, Jasmine Rivera on School Closures @PFC Meetup Wednesday
- PA Revenue Strong Midway Through Year; Tax Cut Could Have Big Impact
- What to Make of the Fiscal Cliff Deal?
Dan U-A and DebtorsPrison, in the comments to DP’s Tales of a Blighted Block, suggested that I write a post about Tax Increment Financing. I imagine that it looks like I came out of nowhere with my objection, but my ears prick up when I see that acronym.
In the comments, I provided a link for a Chicago newspaper’s own series of articles on the subject. As a sort of war journal, the Reader provides possibly the best resource I’ve come across so far. An excellent opinion piece opposing TIFs appeared in Reason magazine. Although the author’s objections are not the same as mine, they are valid and thoughtful.
I’m going to take a shot at putting TIFs more simply.
While I’m not a TIF expert yet, I did quite a bit of reading on the subject in the lead-up to the primary, and Michael Nutter’s support for TIF helped tip me away from supporting him. It’s a subject which looks gnarled and impenetrable from a distance, but flattens out before too long. What it is is essentially an argument for a different kind of redevelopment than we saw under Mayor Street’s Neighborhood Transformation Initiative-- faster, probably more effective on the surface, but at a much higher cost to the communities it would purport to be helping.
Nutter’s economic plan, which can be downloaded as a PDF here, calls for “a Neighborhood TIF program that directs new funding to neighborhoods that need a boost.”
The diplomatically written paper seems aware of the dangers inherent in TIF, because it stipulates that “It must be done in a smart, disciplined way” and that “A portion of this will be available to neighborhood small businesses as grants or low-interest loans.” (If anyone reading this knows what that portion will be, I’d like to know, too.) The problems is that whatever progressive face we graft onto TIF, we are still speaking of a program which not only sparks gentrification, but essentially uses gentrification as its primary development tool. Maybe because of this, TIFs are popular with politicians seeking reelection or higher office; they appeal to the economic strata which vote more and control more of the media dialogue than the strata which are hurt.
In this sense, TIFs reflect Nutter’s stolid fiscal conservatism. They’re especially popular (secretly popular?) with conservatives because they’re a form of “back-door taxation”--when, like Nutter, a politician has promised to cut taxes, TIFs are a good way to demonstrate real forward motion *before* the tax burden appears. (I say “secretly popular” because TIFs tend to be pitched as the tool to enact populist support for the poor, which is not exactly a conservative mainstay. The best word to place TIF on the political spectrum--at the risk of outtalking myself--may be “neoliberal.”)
And TIFs *are* popular. First introduced in California during Earl Warren’s governorship, TIFs have hit AARP age in style: every state--and the District of Columbia--but Arizona has passed enabling legislation. (Would it be bitchy to point out that Phoenix is now bigger than Philly? Probably.) TIFs win over legislatures by proffering a simple deal: if you permit us to build and renovate in this area, property values will increase, which means that your revenues will increase, and new private construction will appear, which means that there’s more property to tax. TIFs argue that they’re a good investment in future rather than current value.
This provides a special danger to Philadelphia, where the “success” of Northern Liberties and the predictions for Port Richmond, Fishtown, and Kensington have led to rumblings of wild real estate speculation. (I will *never* use the nickname.)
In a city already designated the “sixth borough” of New York by art students and hipsters, there’s an inherent danger in selecting the “targeted areas” written about in Nutter’s plan. Philly’s already displaced residents from West and North Phillies who were near the universities. (I’ve seen it myself near Temple Hospital, where I live. My apartment building is owned by New Yorkers and plagued with absentee maintenance. Heads up: East Tioga is the Gowanus to Ontario Park’s Boerum Hill.) And I can only imagine (literally, since Nutter provides so few specifics) that West and North will be the directions TIFs head. Nutter’s welcome to write that some of the TIF cash (which will be between eight and ten million by the end of Nutter’s first year) will be provided to actual residents of the neighborhood--but that’s the only way that the plan will work. If the portion is not large enough, if there are not levied some sort or real estate protections, if TIF is not the lead story in every Philly newspaper, than the residents who are supposed to benefit--and who, it should be said, largely rejected Nutter at the polls--will be steamrolled by new private development aided by the government.
I don’t know what City Council can--or will--do as far as limiting Nutter neighborhood TIF program, but DiCicco’s comment in DebtorsPrison’s post was a warning shot. It’s absolutely essential that Philly’s neighborhood groups get on this immediately--if Nutter is willing to become a citizen’s mayor (and a man who won 37 percent of votes is not yet one), than we can only hope he’ll be open to hearing our concerns over what will happen to our neighborhoods.