In 6 days, Kansas Citians will go to the polls to pick the next Mayor, and far too many of them have developed a severe case of post-Funk apathy, unwilling or unable to see past the “anybody but Funk” paradigm. While it’s true that we all share a sense of civic relief, we have a choice to make on Tuesday, and anybody who says there’s not much difference between Sly James and Mike Burke is either woefully uninformed, or a Burke supporter trying to lull you into complacency.
Sly James is, by far, and for important reasons, the better candidate. Over my next 5 posts, I’m going to tell you why. I’m not working for Sly, and nobody who is has offered me any suggestions or help – this is just me, a person who cares deeply about our city and has been paying a lot of attention to what has gone wrong and what has gone right in our City for the past couple decades.
So, today, let’s talk about failed development projects and Mike Burke. In a nutshell, TIFs are a way that increased tax revenue generated from a development project gets redirected from schools, libraries and general revenue, back into the project itself. So, when a developer gets Tax Increment Financing, he gets to spend tax revenue on his own infrastructure instead of supporting the police, school children and roads that the rest of us drive on. That smooth parking lot in the suburban strip mall is why you drive over metal plates in the poorer neighborhoods.
Mike Burke’s law firm has made millions of dollars – millions – by helping people take tax money from our schools and roads and put it into developers’ pockets – so they can pay millions of dollars to their lawyers. Follow the money, and you’ll see Mike Burke’s law firm getting money that otherwise would go to plow snow off our streets, or maintain swimming pools for our kids. He made it when his law firm represented TIF clients, and he made it when he served as attorney for the Port Authority.
Look, for example, at the Prospect North TIF project, and you’ll shake your head in disgust. Mike Burke’s law firm has made good money because of a debacle that is costing the city $1 million a year. Folks, it was awful when the “Mammy” lawsuit cost our city a few hundred thousand dollars once; this is like having a couple “Mammy” lawsuits every single year for 21 years! And, if you drive up to see what your tax dollars paid for, you’ll see nothing but vacant lots, weeds, and some unused roads. It’s dismal and sad.
We can’t afford that kind of liability.
Kay Barnes, who was mayor when this and other massive development raids were hatched in back rooms, has endorsed Mike Burke. No wonder. Amusingly, the Burke supporters are claiming that Mike’s cozy relationship with insiders like Barnes and others is a reason we should support him. He promises to “hit the ground running”, because he served on the council way back in the 80s, and has been running the city into the ground ever since with projects like Prospect North.
We can’t afford that kind of experience.
But enough about Burke’s history of deal-making – I promised 5 reasons to vote FOR Sly James, and so far I’ve only talked about why not to vote for Burke.
Sly James has a solid understanding of what this city needs, and he intends to use development wisely to put Kansas Citians to work. A project that builds empty roads in vacant land does not help anybody but a few already-wealthy lawyers and one road contractor. Sly has a far better vision.
Sly James would focus on jobs, not on developers. He would “Hold developers accountable to hire Kansas City workers if the company receives Kansas City tax incentives.” By all means, click on that link and you will find a page full of common sense. He’s not against development, as many accused our current mayor of being, and he’s not a money-spending, Burke-supporting nightmare like Kay Barnes was. Instead, he offers a common-sense vision of using development as a tool to help all Kansas Citians.
That’s the sort of investment we can afford.