Criticism Of Tax Increment Financing Is Not A Liberal Vs. Conservative Issue

by William Skink

Missoula’s elected leaders understand that the rapid gentrification we have experienced in recent years means there will be increased scrutiny regarding any use of public money to grease the wheels of development.

If supporters of gentrification like Gwen Jones can get you to think of their policy preferences as being politically “progressive” while at the same time viewing anyone who opposes how they use the TIF tool as being mean, selfish conservatives, then they have already won.

A recent comment from the former director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, Geoff Badenoch, does a great job of de-politicizing the concern over how public money is being directed through Tax Increment Financing. Badenoch was the MRA director from 1985-2003 and the comment he made was in response to a piece by the Missoula Current, titled Despite Conservative Opposition, Missoula City Council Approves Funding for Health Clinic at Food Bank.

Before getting to Badenoch’s comment, I should point out that the Missoula Current article negatively frames the conservative position in the headline by insinuating that the conservatives on Council don’t approve of funding health clinics and food banks when what they are opposed to is using TIF for this need. This is a good example of how local media plays a role in politicizing this issue and therefore obfuscating the scope of the criticism, which goes far beyond just conservatives in Missoula.

Now, here is Geoff Badenoch’s insightful comment:

“Let me say first off, I am all for helping public health clinics and food banks with public funds. Second, on most issues, I would not agree with Jesse Ramos. [But] on this issue of TIF funds, I think there is less daylight between our views. One does not have to be “conservative” or “liberal” to examine the purposes for which the Montana State Legislature empowered local governments to use TIF as a tool for redevelopment. It is essentially a tool meant to correct physical deficiencies that create social problems. Assemble and/or Clear land. Expand or relocate utilities. Plan. Build curbs, gutters, sidewalks and streets. Build parks. Missoula has used it to build other government or public facilities. I am concerned about this particular use because it has been the case all over the country that municipalities cannot resist the temptation to use TIF in ever more expansive ways and state legislatures have almost always responded by removing that tool from local governments. Anyone can go to and look up the urban renewal statutes in the Montana Codes Annotated. Simply look in Title 7-15, Parts 42 and 43. Read it yourself and see if this issue as not as clear cut as it appears. I think we need to be terribly circumspective about these expansive uses of TIF. This particular use might even be worth referring to the State Attorney General for an opinion as to its legality. TIF is too important a tool to be used without serious and deep consideration, regardless of the good outcome
that may come for the clients of the Partnership Health Center, a brilliant institution that itself does wonderful work.”

The emphasis is mine because I think it’s very important to understand this point Badenoch is making, especially when proponents of the misuse of TIF and their media enablers seem intent on depicting this as a liberal/conservative issue.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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