Saturday, April 04, 2009

East Liberty TIF is not what Pittsburgh should be doing.

I'm not happy with yet another tax break, a TIF, Tax Increment Finance, that is coming to Pittsburgh. There are lots of reasons for my objection. Here are a few.

The TIF deal was presented by bosses of the URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) to members of Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday at a post agenda. The statements from the URA are crazy and way beyond belief. They should be called on the absurd nature of their discussion and presentation -- but all on council seemed to just smile.

A new TARGET store, so the URA said, is not going to take away anything from business in the city council district where it will be built. This is a big development with a big box retailer. They combine three parcels of land for the project and all the money that goes there from customers would not be spent elsewhere in the district. Oh my gosh. Opening a new TARGET in the east end of Pittsburgh is going to impact other business receipts from Ross Park Mall to Monroeville to Homestead's Water Front. It is a regional impact. The URA is right, Target won't offer any detrimental impact to others near by -- such as the ice cream truck that goes around in the summertime.

The TIF comes, but where in the world is the CBA (Citizens Benefit Agreement). Why don't we have one? There was a lot of noise made about CBAs in recent development deals with the hope that they would be a standard point of order. Promises are being made, but they are not being documented in a formal agreement. Rather, the promises are much like campaign pledges -- hot air.

Should we trust in: More than 150 jobs. Most of the employees are going to be residents of city council district 9. Green buildings to certified standards. Better traffic patterns. Pedestrian friendly treatments.

The subject of wage taxes is raised at the table with city council. But the focus of the meeting is about the TIF. What is the topic? Why get hoodwinked? The TIF deal and the other taxes (wage, RAD, parking, etc.) are not to be combined.

Why should the URA pay for sidewalks, street lights and road re-configuration? Is the URA gong to pay for winter-time salting of the streets too? Is the URA going to replace the street lights after they burn out or flip to LED lights? Point being, these basic services are city infrastructure bits that the city should pay for out of its budget -- not the URA's budget. The URA should be doing development deals -- not running public works.

Of course taxes are not to be spent on one's self. They make it sound like the TIF money is going to be spent on other bits of infrastructure elsewhere -- within the same general neighborhood. Hello. That's the way all taxes work, generally. You don't pay taxes to fix your own roof. Covering costs that your create is called investment. Taxes are paid so that the money can go to fund government and areas where there are public rights of way. Duhh. The uptick in taxes should be collected by the city and then spent as the city sees fit. That's ideal government.

What are the pay to play implications of this TIF deal? Research? Where is that database? Mossites (sp?) is the developer.

If the East Liberty area is booming now with all sorts of new biz springing to life there, then the last thing that East Liberty should want is more government money in the mix with an additional layer of red tape. Government needs to get out of the way. New development needs to be sustained on its own with private money.

Fix the traffic circle. Do that as part of everyday government -- not a TIF tied to a TARGET store.

City council and the URA have a role. But it isn't with tax breaks. City council wants to have a bigger role. I want them to get out of the way. And, it takes work to get out of the way at times.

In the end, the TIF is a way to rob the school district. That tax break robs the kids of today. Why not just have the developer pay what is due?

I said that the tax break should not be given so as to cut the income for the school district. Then City Council President, Doug Shields, the man who won't shut up and won't let me talk in public comment, said he wants to short change the school district. Doug thinks that the school district needs to give up money with the TIF if it wants to get the increase in taxes later. Wrong Doug. Why should the school district give up income when it is needed? Why not do public investment into the school instead of undoing the goffy things that the city did wrong in the past? The public investment going to street lights and roads is not going to help our kids be more competitive in the classroom. Doug Shields is double trouble for the school kids of today: He robs what is due to them now. And, what is to come later he skims from the top to spend with the URA.

Why not have the URA have a school investment fund?

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