LJWorld.com weblogs Loyal Opposition
Economic Development for All or Just a Few
Sometime back, I wrote a blog addressing the use of the term “Common Good” as a mechanism to justify government efforts that spend taxpayers’ money. Sometimes the efforts truly support the broad interest. Regrettably, all too often they support some form of small special interest. See: http://www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/loyal...
In this missive, I will address what I consider another term with the same potential to misdirect public funds. Economic Development is that term. It can truly encompass efforts that contribute to the public good or it can be misdirected toward a limited special interest with limited or no contribution to the public. How do we differentiate? One could certainly argue that when public funds are used, the public at large should directly benefit. One could also argue that the return to the public should be positive and be based on reasonable assumptions.
To meet these criteria, benefits could come in the form of lower taxes because the economic development generates significant tax revenue. Benefits could also come in the form of jobs that are broadly available to the community. One could even argue that benefits could come if the initiative brings in a new form of business that over time provides many jobs. One does need to be careful with the use of added jobs as a public benefit. Those jobs directly benefit those who are hired. They only provide broad benefits if they either result in tax reductions to most of us or provide our community with some broadly used amenity.
Conversely economic development activity that provides significant financial return to a small group with a minimal benefit to the community at large would likely not be in our interest. Even when the proposed activity does generate a new form of business that business should not benefit disproportionately a small group of investors at the expense of the community at large, even if the community does obtain additional jobs.
Lawrence has a well-written comprehensive policy on economic development. Within that policy there is a group established to assess the return to the community from any economic development activity. What I could not find within the policy is any guidelines as to what would be considered a positive return. Are generalities such as jobs or new business an adequate criterion for measuring return to all of us or do we have a policy with significant opportunity to fall under the control of special interests?
Recently there have been some interesting economic development activities proposed such as city owned laboratory space or city ownership of the former Farmland property. There are many advocates for these initiatives. What I think all of you that read this missive might wish to consider is whether you have seen anything that suggests that most of us will benefit from these investments of our tax money by our city.
In making that judgment, are generalities adequate? Are very optimistic assumptions appropriate? Should there not be some publicly approved guidelines as to what is of benefit to the community? Should we consider the establishment of a group independent of our “law givers” to assess the return and be in a position to reject such activity if there is not a reasonable probability of positive return to most of us?