It’s far too easy to spend other people’s money. If you’ve ever had a credit card or your identity stolen, you know this far too well.
Stanford economist Russ Roberts summarized the phenomenon thusly: “If you’re paying, I’ll have top sirloin.”
But in Chesterfield, it’s more like: “If you’re paying, I’ll have an ice rink.”
News of the Hardee’s Iceplex closure in Chesterfield was quickly followed by calls to find a new home for the Chesterfield Hockey Association. Quicker than a winger can flank the defense, a proposal for a new, $22.6 million facility came forward. The only catch? Taxpayers would have to cough up $7 million.
Those funds could come from a special taxing district, better known as a transportation development district (TDD), which levies an extra sales tax in the Chesterfield Valley retail area. If voters in the district—which encompasses less than a single percent of Chesterfield households—approve the tax, shoppers in the valley will help buy and improve land for a narrow special interest, adding yet another chapter to what’s become Missouri’s never-ending-story of public-cost/private-benefit development.
The problems with this deal are obvious and myriad.
For one, there’s the issue of “investing” in an ice facility when one just went out of business. The developer’s own market analyses show there is a glut of ice facilities in the region, which has “resulted in creating a ‘buyer’s market’.” If an ice rink isn’t a good use of private resources, what reason is there to think it’s a good use of the public’s resources?
Second, despite tax dollars being used to buy and improve land for the developer, there will be no public ownership of the facility. In fact, there isn’t even an agreement in place to let the public use the facility! If the facility changes hands or goes under, the city could end up owning the associated parking lot, but the last time I checked, there was no dearth of parking in the valley.
Then there’s the white elephant just up the road: the $45 million complex proposed by the Blues for Creve Coeur Lake Park. The duly-subsidized complex will undoubtedly compete with the Chesterfield facility, but—incredibly—proponents claim their project is insulated from economic pressures.
And the (unreported) cherry on top? Last month it was announced that a private investment group acquired a new facility for the Chesterfield Hockey Association to use as an ice rink. So even though the group has a new “home,” they still want you to build them an ice palace.
All in all, this project makes little economic sense. So why is it moving forward? Because Missouri’s loose TDD laws sanction (or rather, encourage) special interests to tax the pubic for private gain. And when you’re spending other people’s money, you’ll “invest” in just about anything.
TDD reform is long overdue. Until things change, I suggest we update Roberts’ adage so it reads: “If taxpayers are paying, I’ll have whatever I darn please.”