The “story” related to economic growth is better understood now than at any time I can remember. People know that many things impact an area’s ability to not just grow, but to grow well. While people rank their list (i.e. tax rates, economic development programs, education funding, etc.) based on their individual background, the list is always the same. The difference is the order. What is missing is the understanding of why the fundamentals matter.
For example, one of the economic development darlings of the past couple of years has been transportation infrastructure investment. It’s important because “it will create jobs.” Ok, agreed. But tell me exactly how. Not all roads will have the same economic impact. If we fund one road we cannot fund another because of limited resources. Or, we cannot fund one of the other fundamental items. From my perspective, if the government wants the money in my wallet, I want to know how it will be used, why a particular project was chosen, and how I will get a return on my investment. The story is there and it’s solid. It just needs fine tuning. In this case we are close.
In other cases, we have a long way to go. Consider a program called GPLET. This is where the government takes hold of a property to eliminate or reduce the property tax burden. Originally, it was established for problematic areas but has since been expanded to include almost anything a community wants to incentivize. The problem is the incentive is now being used for non-base sector activities. This means the government, in many cases, is simply redirecting economic growth from one property to another. It also means that most of the studies prepared to make sure a community wasn’t giving away too much are now moot. I have yet to see even one example where a community reviewed a GPLET project at this very basic level of detail. This is unacceptable since we are dealing with many millions of dollars.
A friend told me I was becoming an irritant on these topics. If you know me you also know I don’t care. This is my home state and I’m not a believer of giving everybody a trophy for just showing up and doing the minimum. I am also fiercely opposed to wasting taxpayer dollars. The local planners, economic developers, and policymakers are doing good work. However, it’s time to take the next step and fine-tune the efforts.
Author’s note: If there is a particular economic or policy issue you would like covered in a later publication feel free to send your ideas and/or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.