Tax Increment Districts - Compromise Passes Council
This morning the Council chose to neither renew the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts which fund our neighborhood groups, nor to leave the question of whether or not to renew them to the discussions about the 2010 budget this December. Instead, we chose a middle path proposed by Council Member Colvin Roy: to send the issue back to the Ways and Means committee for further review and information gathering.
After my motion to postpone this decision for two Council cycles failed by a 6 - 6 vote, I voted for this compromise, though I continue to feel that by refusing to renew the districts now - when we said, in the budget process last December, that we would take this up - the Council is signalling our willingness to step away from the commitments we made to ourselves, neighborhood groups, the State Legislature and the public at large that we will continue to fund the work of neighborhoods. During this morning's debate, several of my colleagues made clear that they are quite open to revisiting those commitments, because in their estimation the "world has changed" since we made them. Funding neighborhood groups and debt relief for the Target Center from the renewed TIF districts was a fine idea back when we acted on the Framework for the Future, creating a department of Neighborhoods and Community Relations and funding the next phase of neighborhood revitalization. But the Governor's unallotment of our Local Government Aid has changed the conversation entirely.
I disagree with this perspective for two fundamental reasons. First, if we're honest with ourselves we'll admit that we knew pretty well that our fiscal picture was not likely to be rosy. The writing was on the wall at the state level: it was never likely that our LGA would be held harmless in a state facing a budget shortfall in the billions with Tim Pawlenty acting as Governor. The only way in which the world changed between last December and today is that the cuts went from suspected to known.
Second, the very reason to keep revenues for neighborhood funding in a separate "pot" is that the fiscal "world" in which the City operates is always changing. For the past few years, every one of these changes has been for the worse. If City policymakers do not set aside a reliable, stable, dedicated funding source for neighborhoods, there will always be the temptation to loot neighborhood funding for whatever seems more important in a particular year. Setting aside some money for neighborhood associations to invest is smart during tough times, just as it is during more flush times. On the neighborhood level people can and do make wise choices about where money should go to make the most difference. This is why NRP was so successful in its first phase. It brought people together, allowed hem to identify needs and set funding priorities and then provided them with the funds to address those needs and meet those priorities. That is one of the reasons why the City is in such great shape today, because some funding choices have been decentralized and determined by a grassroots democratic process at the neighborhood level. Our parks, schools, homes and businesses are better off because of it.
For the record, here's where the votes came down today. In favor of sending this back to committee: CMs Colvin Roy, Schiff, Glidden, Hofstede, Lilligren, Benson, and me. In favor of debating whether or not to renew the districts as part of the larger, longer budget process: CMs Hodges, Ostrow, Johnson, Goodman and Remington. CM Samuels is recovering from surgery, and wasn't present this morning. Neither option was ideal, in my eyes. What would have been best it to have this matter resolved now, before the Mayor's budgetis presented.
Still, I will continue to advocate for the Council to live up to the promise we made to our partners in the neighborhood groups last December to renew these TIF districts, both because it is central to following through on our commitment for the third phase of nrp, but also because is is the smart thing to do to help us get through these hard economic times and make sure that we have a healthy city for the future.