Incentive Missteps Stymie Our Economic Prosperity

Saturday, December 15, 2012, Vol. 5, No. 51

We are in the midst of one of those tough and necessary civic debates – no, not the one about schools in our community.

We are asking some complex and proper questions about what should be offered and what should not be offered to attract business growth and jobs to the local economy.

If you have heard about this discussion before and thought it had been resolved, we sympathize because we’re reported on those past discussions and the conclusions from our leaders that we are now all on the same page and have our act together.

We don’t.

We can’t when those on our side of the talks hurriedly take a deal through a pipeline with political ooze lining its entire length and insist there is no time to crunch numbers independently of their experts – just approve the deal and if it is a bad deal then we’ve learned a lesson for the next time. Except the next time, there still isn’t enough time to truly analyze the numbers.

There is, on the other hand, time for all manner of odd political behavior including the double inquisition on both sides of the Main Street Mall where city and county elected leaders can turn a Google search about a company with a similar sounding name or any kind of litigation at any point in the past into a gauntlet for the company to run.

The process at times tends to say more about a lack of trust among our political community and which of them have a seat on stage at the groundbreaking than it does about objectively examining the merits of tax breaks or other incentives. Such an objective examination is going to be complex to some appreciable degree. Although we would argue we have probably topped out in terms of the complexity needed that is tolerable for sight consultants who drive the bus when it comes to business relocations.

Due diligence by the appointed bodies that make the initial decisions on such incentives shouldn’t be measured by how much paperwork they get applicants to fill out. It should be measured by a sound basic analysis that should be available throughout the process and hold up throughout the process.

If we take some of the needless hoops out of every part of the process before and after that point, the needed complexity and accountability can be accommodated. We also need to go for a relative simplicity that is rapidly becoming extinct as we try to make incentives lift financial weight and carry interlocking project parts they were never meant to lift or carry.

There are two choices here. Either adjust the rules to allow for the kind of projects and financial arrangements that the local powers that be are now trying to fit into the existing rules made for other kinds of projects. Or stop subverting the process.

Something has to give.