Here’s what not to do if you now hold local office, or aspire ever to serve the public in that capacity: Do not — Do. Not. — hand out the enticements known as tax increment financing, or TIFs, as if they were Halloween candy, to anyone who shows up at the door in plastic fangs or a sparkly tiara.
Otherwise, you could wind up like Raytown, giving away the store to get the superstore.
For a decade, the town has effectively subsidized Walmart, the largest retailer in the world, giving it a pass on about $300,000 in taxes every year. That’s the deal then-officials made to get the store built.
And now, as Raytown is being forced to cut about 30 percent of the local police department’s budget and staff, including 17 officers, that same police department is overwhelmed by calls about crimes in progress — at the Walmart.
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After the cuts take effect on Nov. 1, the problem will get significantly worse. More than 500 arrests and about 30 percent of the Kansas City suburb’s reported serious crimes occurred at the store last year.
But the symmetry should come as no surprise. And remind us again why a company with annual profits that averaged $15.5 billion during the last five years, a company notorious for underpaying its employees, ever needed or deserved a tax break?
(Last year, when Walmart announced that its employees would, after a pay bump, make at least $10 an hour, Jessica Levin of the United Food & Commercial Workers Union told CNN that, “It’s easier to find a unicorn than a Walmart worker who has gotten a meaningful raise, or hasn’t had their hours cut. America’s hard-working families expect better from a company that makes billions in profit a year.”)
But do our officials? Even as Walmart avoids paying its fair share of taxes, the rest of us also subsidize the services needed by those thousands of the Arkansas company’s low-paid employees who are on public assistance.
Raytown Alderman Eric Teeman is thinking about trying to get Walmart designated as a “public nuisance” and then charging the company for public services. “Walmart’s bleeding this town,” he said at a recent meeting.
Our favorite sentence in The Star’s news story about the situation was this one: “Walmart has defended its security policies, saying that if its stores generate a lot of police calls, it is because the company is catching a lot of criminals.” Gosh, so civic minded.
Of course, it’s the fault of Raytown’s own officials for inviting Walmart in under such inequitable terms. And it isn’t just Raytown. Or just Walmart.
Cities across the country will be competing to offer Amazon the most advantageous possible terms for the site of a second headquarters, or HQ2. The world’s third largest retailer doesn’t need incentives from already cash-strapped local governments.
TIFs are supposed to be sweeteners strategically offered to developers to facilitate projects that otherwise wouldn’t happen, particularly in economically struggling areas.
But in the past, they’ve been doled out in Kansas City to finance the Power & Light District and doll up such decidedly non-struggling venues as the Country Club Plaza.
Subsidizing Walmart is right up there with subsidizing the Plaza in the annals of dunderheadedness. Can we designate the next local official who does that as a public nuisance, too?