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Getting in bed with the wrong guys — Sarasota’s vote on the Economic Development Ad Valorem Exemption makes me wonder

I voted no on Tuesday — against giving our local government leaders the right and power to decide whether some new or growing businesses will be eligible for property tax exemptions for as long as the next decade. Proponents of the Economic Development Ad Valorem Exemptions call these tax breaks “incentives.” I just call them kick-backs.

I realize our community has a broad concern – to help the many folks in our town who are struggling without jobs. I believe my community wants to do right – by creating situations where more jobs might be created and more money might be spent and more economic stability and growth might be achieved. But I do not agree with the means.

Do we really want to make our economic beds with businesses that will only do business with us if we grease their palms with rebates and incentives? Is this really the standard for attracting business to which we aspire as a community? Isn’t there a better way to build our economy beyond cozying up to fickle businesses and industries whose modus operandi is to pull up stakes and move whenever and wherever someone dangles a fresh, new, bigger carrot?

I’m worried, like so many others, about my community’s future, but rather than using taxpayers’ dollars to entice out-of-towners or larger businesses, I would have preferred to support a measure that gave local leaders powers and access to incentives that rewarded and protected and helped the thousands of Mom & Pop or long-time businesses that have invested years of their lives and their profits right back into this community. I would have preferred a whole lot of money being spent, for example, to prevent Winn-Dixie from pulling up stakes in one of our most under-served, under-employed, and under-the-poverty-line sections of town.

People are saying incentives, kick-backs, call them what you will are “just the way business is done now” – it’s the trend across the country, they say.

That may be … but a few years ago, the trend was flipping homes and giving out mortgages to people who couldn’t afford it – all in the name of economic development, making money, and enjoying the good life. We are living the nightmare of what jumping on those bandwagons has cost us.

And besides, character is the same for an individual as it is for a community.

Can you imagine a teacher offering to give part of her salary back to a school supervisor if he hired her? Can you imagine being new in town and telling your local grocer that you will continue to shop at her store only if she promises to give you free apples and strawberries for the next ten years, even if it means your long-time neighbors might have to pay higher prices for such produce? Can you imagine a prominent Sarasota lawyer stealing a client away from a Desoto County attorney by offering kick-backs on attorney fees? Now, consider all this being done with taxpayer dollars.

But for me, this vote came down to a very simple question: When did what essentially amounts to kick-backs in business become the accepted norm? And, in Sarasota, this community which we all talk so much about treasuring for its pristine beauty, unspoiled beaches, and for its extraordinary commitment to the higher pursuits of culture, arts, and the intellect – shouldn’t we aspire to better?

I say yes. And that’s why I voted no.

Posted on August 26th, 2010Comments RSS Feed
7 Responses to Getting in bed with the wrong guys — Sarasota’s vote on the Economic Development Ad Valorem Exemption makes me wonder
  1. Stan, in reference to your previous post in Mary’s last blog…please…let’s open this to a debate….

    Stan, “Steve” variety? On my back? Stan, I’ve been working since I’ve been 14 years old, from when I was 15 – (lied on my job app. to gain employment), I worked 30 hours a week, from the 9th. grade, ran track, went to school and have been working full-time since I’ve been 17. I’m now 56. So, where do you get off, I’m taking a free ride. Tell ya what Stan, let’s compair how much in tax dollars to what you’ve paid. Point made!

    Stan, answer me this, why would a candidate spend fifty million of his own money, to win a seat that pay’s less than 133,000.00?

    Why did the commissioners put the Ed Smith Stadium re-building referrendum on the ballot – Three Times and was voted down by the citizens three times, but went ahead and approved it anyway’s, and said: “to hell what the residents want, it’s what we want, only to find out, it was a corrupt developer from Chicago that won the bid?

    Sorry Stand the man… but this man just doesn’t have too much faith in our voting process…

    But I truly wish ya would explain how I’m getting a free ride, when I’ve been busting my chops for the last 42 years? Please explain….

  2. Posted by Stan:
    Hawkeye: Sign me up, I could use a snowblower. Maybe you could modify it to a BS blower?

    Voters approved the measure yesterday. Jobs, Jobs, Jobs…and not the Steve variety. No, it was a pig-in-a-poke vote, a measure of our local desperation. Who do you believe? One-in-eight out of a job, one-in-six?

    Will this measure lift us, nobody knows. Does it bulk up the balance sheet of incoming corporations? Sure. They won’t pay for police protection, fire, human services, 911, roads…all the things renters and homeowners carry. Such good citizens they are. Welcome to the free ride. On your back. Sure hope the snowblowin’ biz is a success. s/StanZ

    Stan, “Welcome to the free ride – on my back” ?! Stan, you care to explain?
    Like I stated Stan, let’s you and I compare how much in tax dollars you’ve paid in your life, compared to what I’ve paid.

    Now, let’s open this up to some serious debating…I am so more than ready.. bring it on Stan, give me your best…

  3. And Mary, I hope you leave this open to some serious debating.

  4. Hawkeye2you — I don’t want to speak for Stan, but I don’t think he was referring to you specifically about the “free ride” comment — i understood him to be talking about the businesses that might be coming in and taking advantage of the tax exemptions. but certainly, i always leave the site open to debate — only monitor the comments if there is undue cursing, name-calling, or threats! :) so feel free to debate away.

  5. Thank you MC and I will certainly apologize to Stan, if in your comment, this was what he was referring to…

    MC, this is what we truly need passing…Amendment 4 :


    *And of course… no cursing, name calling at all…

  6. Hi Mary Catherine,

    Well, you’ve entered the fray along with many economists, city planners, politicians, et. al. When I was in grad school I did my thesis on the Urban Enterprize Zone Program in New Jersey. The ultimate question: Did reduced taxes translate into more jobs? The only definite thing I could conclude was that businesses loved tax breaks, but the prime consideration was cost of labor and materials, not their tax bills. Taxes might be the straw that forced people to move out of an area, but it was seldom the primary enticement. More like dessert after the meal.

    In the current economic climate many states are reviewing the cost of various tax expenditures – taxes forgone to lure businesses to a particular geographic area. While a few states have curtailed their tax credits for movies filmed on location, this is one of those sad instances where you have to do it because everyone else does it. It’s almost as if businesses expect this ‘lure.’ So, while I agree with your reasoning and logic about who REALLY pays for these tax breaks, it’s pretty much de riguer. :(

  7. Well, I appreciate very much having your input, Howard. I think you nailed it — it’s done because everyone else is doing it and I deplore that kind of lemming-like thinking in general and on principle.

    Thanks for reading and for sharing your insights.

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