Archive for the ‘TIF’ Category

5 Reasons To Vote for Sly James – Reason #5: Mike Burke is the King of TIFs

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

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.

Should Anne McGregor Resign from the Primary?

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Anne McGregor was the first person in the race for the at-large council seat for the 4th District of Kansas City, and she ought to be the first person out. If she truly cares about Kansas City and its residents, she holds the power to give us a chance at solid and effective representation in that seat rather than unwavering support for the economically powerful. She can do that by resigning and encouraging people to support Jim Glover.

Right now, there are 4 people in the race. Two of them seek to represent privilege, and two of them (Glover and McGregor) seek to stand up for Kansas Citians who don’t own hotels or country club memberships. One of the candidates of privilege WILL be one of the two winners of the primary on 2/22, and, if McGregor does not resign and unify behind Glover, we may well get stuck with only the two candidates of privilege in the general election.

John Crawford is far and away the leading candidate in terms of effective campaigning, staggering bankbook and support of every rip-off artist eying the Kansas City budget like a personal piggy bank. The development departments of every major law firm have hosted events for their rapacious clients to meet him. Herb Kohn is on board. Tim Kristl is on board. It’s a rogue’s gallery of the wrong people flexing their economic muscle through a likable but wholly-owned candidate. John Crawford will absolutely get through the primary with a strong plurality of the electorate.

Annie Presley is a Republican who brings big money to the race and a Rolodex that includes the country club set of KC. She’s linked to the Blunt family, and she blogs for The Independent, “Kansas City’s Journal of Society”. She does not seek to represent us – she’s there to represent the hyper-privileged segment of KC WASP society that resents the influence of Catholics and Jews on societal institutions. Money and well-connected friends, though, mean that she could be the second person to make it through the primary, delivering the 4th District At-Large Seat to one of two candidates of privilege.

So, either McGregor or Glover needs to beat Annie Presley and mount a serious challenge to Crawford in the general. If both remain in the race, they may well split the core of voters that don’t live on tax-incentives or trust funds. We have one (kind of slim) chance at getting a representative of the people in that seat, and Jim Glover stands the best chance of being that candidate. Ann McGregor should resign from the race and throw her support behind Jim Glover in a last-ditch effort to save the seat for the people.

McGregor has been in the race since before Beth Gottstein announced she wouldn’t run, and she has failed to harness any popular support. She has demonstrated an inability to sway voters at least twice in the path. Her work for Obama delivered such underwhelming Missouri support that we bucked the democratic trend in 2008, and her noisy and expensive ($30,000 +!) effort to unseat Funkhouser was a colossal failure, after she repeatedly and stridently assured us that it would be successful.

Glover, on the other hand, has won City Council races in the past, and his fresh entrance into the field has given a jolt of hope to those that want to see that seat remain responsive to the people instead of the insiders. He has name recognition that Anne McGruff-McGiver-McWho can only dream about. What he lacks, though, is excitement, and McGregor could generate a bit of that by publicly embracing his campaign and standing up for the people of Kansas City.

The time to make this move is now. The primary election will be held in less than 2 weeks. Will Anne McGregor join up with Jim Glover and help Kansas City, or will she ride her dwindling campaign into the ditch it is headed for, and help Annie Presley?

4th District At-Large – Should we take Annie Presley Seriously?

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Annie Presley is a Republican running for city-wide office in a Democratic city. She’s a “Public Relations Professional” who publishes sloppily written right-wing talking points demonstrating an appalling ignorance of basic civics (the President tells Congress what they can vote on, and writes the tax code?). She has a grudge against Catholics and Jews on the Supreme Court, and rails against upper class elitists in Kansas City’s most upper class elitist publication, The Independent, “Kansas City’s Journal of Society”.

As ludicrous as all that seems, she might well be the best candidate to replace Beth Gottstein in Kansas City’s Fourth District At-Large seat.

The problem lies with her opponents. John Crawford is the chosen candidate of the TIF pigs – brazenly embracing every major player who helped starve the school district and library of tax funds while lining their own pockets with millions of dollars and ruining the city’s fiscal future. Herb Kohn is on Crawford’s side. Table-hopping Tim Kristl helped sponsor a forum for him. The most fiscally destructive Mayor in Kansas City’s history issued an effusive endorsement. Development attorneys from Husch Blackwell and Lathrop & Gage have hosted events for him. No wonder, because he was Executive Director of the EDC during its most free-spending days. A vote for John Crawford is a vote to turn the money fountain on full blast.

Anne McGregor is also running for the position, but she has a history of ineffectiveness that makes it difficult to envision her as a successful council member. She was a key Obama campaigner in an effort that turned out an underwhelming vote count and allowed Missouri to sink into the “red state” column and lose its bellwether status. More visibly on the local level, she chaired the embarrassing and unsuccessful effort to recall the Mayor, blowing over $30,000 in the process. Neither endeavor appears on her “About Anne McGregor” page, which leads one to wonder about her commitment to transparency.

Finally, we have Jim Glover. At least I think we do. His campaign has been silent except for the “Kiss of Death” endorsement by the Citizens Association, which has a rich history of choosing losers. I cannot even find a website for him, and the MEC doesn’t show any campaign information for him. He has decent name recognition because of prior city council service and a failed mayoral run, but if he’s going to make a go of it, he needs to start working.

The worst result for Kansas City would be having Kristl, Kohn and Kay have their chosen man on the Council. We cannot afford to return to their fiscal irresponsibility and plundering for wealthy friends. We need an alternative.

Would it be better to have a Republican with a penchant for sloppy reasoning and right-wing talking points on the council than a Kay Barnes protege with a penchant for public funding for wealthy contributors? It’s a tough choice, and I honestly think I would vote for Annie Presley in a head-to-head contest in the hopes that her right-wing posturing would render her a nullity on the Council. Better to have someone who will accomplish nothing than someone who will accomplish a return to the trough for the TIF pigs at our expense.

Come on, Jim Glover – save us from that choice . . .

Fencing Liberty Memorial? Is the Civic Irony Meter on the Fritz?

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

You need to be a hyped-up brand of clueless to propose a fence surrounding something named for Liberty, but the private Liberty Memorial Association wants to spend $1.4 million to do exactly that. (Yes, these are the same people who reacted to a minor spending cut by threatening to “douse the flame” on the Liberty Memorial.)

To justify their ironic request, they cite a fear that “undesirable activity” could take place at the park. They also claim that “the memorial, as a national historic landmark and home to the National World War I Museum, deserves the protection of a fence.” If anything “deserves” fencing, I doubt that Liberty leads the list.

The open approach to Liberty Memorial, when viewed from the North or the South, is one of the visual splendors of our city. For a private group of elites to rob Kansas City of that vista just so they can keep out “undesirables” is an affront to common sense, good judgment and liberty itself.

Keeping my Word

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

I told Deb Hermann that I would not join in the line-by-line criticism of the Council budget, and I’ll stick to my promise.

That said, I will point out, however, that Yael Abouhalkah has been uncharacteristically insightful here, here, and here. If I weren’t a man of my word, I’d be writing something very similar.

Is the City Council Irrelevant?

Friday, March 20th, 2009

Yesterday, Funkhouser went ahead and signed the ordinance extending the TIF package for the Savoy Hotel. While I criticized the extension here yesterday, and I questioned the good faith of the Council, the developer and even the developer’s lawyer, it turns out that the only party truly deserving of scorn on this issue is the Council.

The developer, developer’s attorney, Funkhouser and the other taxing districts went ahead and worked out a better deal without the Council, rendering irrelevant the Council’s attempt to actually harm our city. Actually, as Mark Forsythe correctly pointed out the other day, they had already worked out a better deal before the City Council followed joined in Terry’s Terrible Temper Tantrum and, incredibly, approved a worse deal for the city than was already on the table!

Truthfully, they went ahead and approved an ordinance that was worse than the developer had actually agreed to, just because Terry Riley was angry that someone else had negotiated the deal!
Is that the sort of person you voted for?

Fortunately, the adults fixed the situation. Through written, good faith agreements apart from the Council, the developer agreed to do the right thing, whether the Council cares about the good of the city or not. Thank goodness Funkhouser worked with them to make it all come out okay.

Meanwhile, city hall observers are left to smirk at the Council’s behavior. The more juvenile members of the Council have been claiming lately that the Mayor is “irrelevant”, just because they don’t talk to him much. Sadly, the Council is becoming Junior High at its worst, with cliques excluding others on the Council and bragging about it to the rest.

If Mark were the sort to join in those games, he would be out whispering to others that the Council is “irrelevant”, and snickering at the silly ones who joined in Riley’s malfeasance.

But he won’t do that.

Instead, he realizes that the Council remains very relevant, and capable of much more mischief in the future. In this instance, he managed to prevent them from bringing as much harm to the City as they attempted, but he knows we are still burdened with Cauthen for a couple years because of their immature behavior. Alas, the City Council may be outsmarted on occasion, but they are not irrelevant. Fortunately, neither is the Mayor.

Savoy TIF – A Reason to Despair

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

If Kansas City is ever going to do the right thing, this should have been the moment. Everything was set up absolutely perfectly for success, and we absolutely blew it.

We have some fine and intelligent people on our City Council. We have a Mayor who even his most dogged opponents acknowledge has the political courage to stand up to developers seeking to get wealthy from tax funds. We have a budget crisis raging, to keep the focus on the budget imbalances created by bad decisions made in the past. We even have a sane economic development policy that the Council has already agreed upon, to help it make rational decisions.

Surely, under these circumstances, when a wealthy developer approached our City with his hand out, our Council would have the strength and good sense to honor their commitment to the citizens of Kansas City, right? Surely, at this moment of crisis, they would not screw us one more time, for old times’ sake . . .

Wrong.

Absolutely incredible. With the sole exceptions of Mayor Funkhouser and John Sharp, the City Council went ahead and showered a rich developer with undeserved tax breaks, at the urging of a well-connected development lawyer who gave them money.

For a great explanation of just how bad a deal this was, go read Mark Forsythe’s excellent analysis at The Kansas City Post. Make no mistake about it, Kansas City taxpayers are helping to make the rich richer, while facing cutbacks in basic services.

And your council member is fine with that.

If they’re not going to stand up for us now, when will they stand up for us? When Terry Riley chooses not to play silly games over turf? When the development lawyer appearing before them has not greased their palms with substantial campaign donations? When the contrast between having money to pay for basic services and having money to pay for a “four star” restaurant is somehow sharper?

It’s moments like these that make me wonder why I care. The deck is stacked in favor of the status quo, and even good people like my city council representatives are riding with Terry Riley and Jerry Riffel instead of Kansas City taxpayers.

I can only hope that sometime today, Mayor Mark Funkhouser vetoes this disgusting display of legislative sell-out, and that a few good council people will look themselves in the mirror and think about why they got involved in the first place.

I know it’s politics, but, really, how could you fall this far?

PIMBY?

Friday, February 20th, 2009

Yael Abouhalkah had a funny observation in his blog post about the proposal to stop siphoning money away from taxpayers to support the Costco TIF Plan.

Jan Marcason, a sharp and well-intentioned City Council member, also questioned what happened last week.

Marcason lives in the Southmoreland neighborhood in the 4th District and supports its housing repair program.

While everyone has heard the term “Not In My Back Yard”, this presents an unusual case of “Please In My Back Yard”. The elegant Southmoreland neighborhood has enjoyed access to free money, and nobody can really blame them for enjoying the opportunity.

But if you spend a little time driving around the old Northeast, or the East side, it’s hard to understand why tax dollars should be funding housing repair in such a posh area. The Southmoreland website is a cheery, welcoming place, offering “Up to $10,000 or more matching grants to fix up your house.”

Meanwhile, other neighborhoods can’t get their weeds cut or their illegal tire dumps cleared.

Southmoreland is fortunate to be on the PIMBY side of the financial seesaw, while others struggle for basic services. Southmoreland doesn’t want to share, and they have a brave and articulate councilmember to stand up and fight for the privileges they have enjoyed for over a decade.

Is it a fair fight?

Beer in the Bottoms? Let’s Bulldoze the Power & Light District!

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Last night, while researching my next homebrew recipe, I came upon a spot of amazingly cool news. In 2009, Kansas City will have another brewery opening up, this time in the West Bottoms. Dead Canary Brewing is a woman-owned and run new brewery, setting up in the West Bottoms down off 12th Street, among the haunted houses and great old brick buildings.

Folks, this could be amazing.

They are setting up Beer Pong and Dodgeball Leagues. They are creating a taproom. They are committed to brewing practices that are green and sustainable. They got started on this journey by brewing naked.

Most importantly, they are creating “high content, high flavor, knock you on yo ass beers.” Beers like Cat House Stout – (Dry hopped mint chocolate imperial stout), Local No. 12(lemongrass maple strong ale), Speakeasy IPA(honeysuckle grapefruit IPA), Bathtub Barleywine(copiously hopped barleywine), and Chickory Rhubarb Imperial Porter.

This could do more for the West Bottoms than any TIF Project ever brewed up in a closed-door meeting between Kay Barnes and Mephistopheles. Really – the West Bottoms could become the new Crossroads X 20, with lots of inexpensive great old buildings around, acres of parking, and reasonable access to the highways.

But, since Wayne Cauthen and the prior City Council have gambled our city’s future on the Power & Light District, which is already turning out to be a bit of a flop, I have a radical idea. Let’s bulldoze the Power & Light District, and refuse to give any more of our tax dollars to Cordish and their cronies. (Yes, of course they will sue, but it will take years for them to recover anything, and a sensible jury might just rule in our favor if we can introduce evidence of all their broken promises and their racist dress codes.)

Now that we have freed ourselves of the millions upon millions of obligations to out-of-state developers, we can bring in some topsoil and put in the world’s most awesome beer garden in all the paved expanse that currently exists down there. Let’s be ambitious – let’s create something that will make Munich’s Oktoberfest seem like an unpopular fraternity’s weekend kegger. (We can even, as a nod to our prior mayor, put in a rain garden, just to show we’re not angry anymore.)

Then, we take a few million dollars and give them to our local brewers to create the micro-breweries of their dreams on the periphery of our new beer garden. Relocate Boulevard’s and its emblematic smokestack downtown. Get 75th Street Brewery to open up a 12th Street Brewery. In a cross-state gesture of goodwill to make up for our outright theft of the 1985 World Series, offer Schlafly a space.

But don’t forget the beginners, either! The Kauffman Foundation wants to support entrepreneurship – let them funnel a few million dollars to help ambitious homebrewers make the leap into micro-brewing. And, because cans are so much more recyclable and cheaper to ship than bottles, let the city open up a municipal cannery, offering access to its canning lines for each of the breweries on a cooperative basis – a green infrastructure project that ought to attract funding from every level of government.

As I think we demonstrated at 75th Street Brewery on Monday night, real beer is a big draw. People will come out for something unusual, and they appreciate a good party. Imagine if Kansas City was the undisputed Home of Great Beer. We would have to hire thugs to control the hoards of convention planners! Vacationers would come in year round, just to try the seasonal brews! Hotels chains would pony up their own money to get access to the crowds of tipsy beer-lovers walking around downtown.

Most importantly, it would be awesome.

My point in this flight of fancy is that for the millions of dollars we have blown on a cookie-cutter assemblage of national chain restaurants, we could have had something unique and truly attractive to Kansas Citians and conventions if only we had focused on local businesses and local flavor. This is the sort of impulse that Mayor Funkhouser has pushed with his New Tools initiative. Economic Development does not have to mean sending massive amounts of money to out-of-state developers for massive projects. Let’s hope that the Council gets behind the concept and that we see some real Kansas City economic development.

In the meantime, let’s raise a toast to Dead Canary Brewing. They might accomplish with beer what politicians have failed to accomplish with hot air and taxpayer dollars.

Is Silly Season Coming to a Close?

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

Funkhouser is talking about the economic crisis.

Marcason is talking about sewers.

Jolly is talking about red light cameras.

Hermann is looking at budget shortfalls.

Gottstein remains focused on her priorities.

The whole Council is waking up to the horrible mistake they made in extending Cauthen’s contract over Funkhouser’s smart-with-the-money objections, and giving Cauthen terrible evaluations that will never appear on his resume of fabrications.

The Finance Committee refused to go along with Cauthen’s crazed scheme to take all the risk of the eternally-botched Citadel Project.

Meanwhile, Ed Ford is all by himself ranting and muttering darkly about recalls he is too lazy and ineffective to spearhead. (He brings to mind this nifty bit of analysis – “In fact, people who resort to using the threat of recall in Kansas City are announcing in clear tones that they are ignoranuses. They are stating boldly and clearly that they do not know what they are talking about, but they want attention, nonetheless. They are standing on their soapbox and loudly embarrassing themselves, hoping you will watch.“)

Back when the Mayor and Council were elected, I thought we had chosen wisely. At times over the past year and three quarters, I’ve had moments of despair, but the past week or so has given me hope. The Mayor is focused on helping the city weather an economic crisis that Cauthen foolishly ignored, and the Council is actually working on something other than trying to run the Mayor’s office (well, except for Ed Ford).

I’m beginning to hope that by spring, our elected officials will be acting more like a well-run student council than a self-indulgent drama club. (Well, except for Ed Ford.)