What Should I Say About Tax Increment Financing To Convince Legislators To Vote YES On SB 523?

by Travis Mateer

On Monday, at the frustratingly early hour of 8am, legislators in Helena will be debating Senate Bill 523, and I’ll be there to provide testimony. But what should I say? Should I focus my testimony on the negative impacts of TIF on first responder capacity, including law enforcement, or should I focus on the political application of the TIF tool?

To highlight the latter, a Missoulian article from October, 2019, offers a perfect glimpse of one of my claims about TIF in Missoula, and that’s the political function of this tool. But in order for this tool to be used for a political attack, the media has to do their part, and that’s exactly what the Missoulian did four years ago with this “article”, titled TIF-taking donors support anti-TIF candidates. From the link (emphasis mine):

Some funders of a divisive political mailer supporting Missoula City Council candidates opposed to the use of tax increment financing have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in TIF funds for their business projects.

The group, a political action committee, or PAC, called Missoulians for Missoula, sent campaign mailers Monday supporting conservative candidates who have all voiced opposition to tax increment financing.

You can probably surmise from the image at the top that Bretz RV was one of the offending businesses that took a TIF handout, then tried to politically bite the hand that fed it. Another business mentioned in the article is a construction company based in Frenchtown. Here’s more from the “news” hit piece:

As previously reported by the Missoulian, Bretz RV received nearly $123,000 in TIF funding to aid an expansion project in 2015. The business’ controller, Brandon Bretz, donated $200 to the PAC, according to public campaign finance records. He did not respond to multiple calls requesting comment.

Tollefson Construction Inc. donated $2,000 to the PAC. The Frenchtown-based construction company, which formed an incidental committee in order to legally donate as a business rather than an individual, received more than a total of $150,000 in TIF money to aid construction of two apartment buildings behind what is now the South Crossing shopping center on Brooks Street in 2010 and 2012.

The company’s owner, Nate Tollefson, did not respond to a request to comment on the donation.

As you can see from the link, this media-facilitated attack was actually a counter-attack in response to a few local businesses trying to influence an election by contributing to a political PAC. Did it work? Nope, the Engen machine steamrolled those political contenders, allowing the TIF payola schemes to continue subsidizing development in Zoom Town (Missoula).

Part of my commentary next Monday should probably feature a BIG apology to the rest of the state for having to appeal to legislators for municipal handcuffs because our municipal bureaucrats can’t control themselves. If I have the time, I’ll include a strategic mea culpa, since I do recognize there is A LOT of Montana geography outside Missoula.

Going further, geographically speaking, my Deep Dive appearance with Monica Perez is now available, so check it out. I think anyone who finds themselves trapped in the TIF incubator known as California should get savvy on this scheme, so to help I took a quick peek online to see what I could find.

What did I find? I found an Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District that the County of Los Angeles is using for, well, all kinds of stuff, potentially.

Here’s a screenshot of the types of things that COULD get financed within these EIFDs (emphasis mine):

Yes, that’s right, there is a distinct possibility that the Hollywood Walk of Fame will be the beneficiary of a TIF handout, California style. Maybe Hollywood should consider a PUBLIC/PRIVATE partnership with the celebrities themselves to ensure this obnoxious veneration of popular culture is subsidized by those who might actually give a shit instead of tax payers.

Do any of the people involved with handing out public money understand that infrastructure must be maintained? And do they understand that lawless dystopias are NOT ideal environments for maintaining this infrastructure?

North of Hollywood, in San Francisco, an act of vandalism caused the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to cancel their meeting. This same board has attempted to down play the violence against people and property in the Bay area. Then this happens:

I think the public safety argument against TIF is more compelling, but in terms of convincing legislators in Helena, the political-weapon-angle may get more usable attention so these lawmakers can see that we are WAY beyond blight when we’re talking Tax Increment Financing.

If countering their TIF with a leaner, meaner TIF exposing the PUBLIC SAFETY gaps their TIF is exacerbating sounds like something worthy of support, then financial generosity can be directed at Travis’ Impact Fund, or the donation button at my about page.

Thanks for reading!

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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