Monday, November 4, 2013

The Republican Party's "civil war": Will there be a land use fallout?

The New York Times has an interesting article today about how a small Iowa city--like other small cities around the country--is witnessing the influx of campaign money from the Koch bothers' libertarian Americans For Prosperity group.  The influx of outsider money is receiving a skeptical response in the liberal-leaning area.  For readers of this blog, perhaps of equal interest is what is buried deep in the article:  that the major issue in the community is debt the city took on through a tax-increment financed development.  From the article: 

A central issue in Coralville’s elections is the city’s decision to borrow tens of millions of dollars to turn a once-blighted stretch of riverfront into a development called the Iowa River Landing. The city retained ownership of some of the buildings, including a Marriott hotel and convention center and a brewery. City officials also lured a Von Maur department store to the development with as much as $16 million in incentives.       

“I don’t think government should operate private enterprise,” said Mark Winkler, a City Council candidate the citizens group has backed. “Government should own libraries, police stations.”       

Critics complain that the debt has prevented the city from lowering property tax rates. They also complain that the complex rules of tax-increment financing siphon property tax money away from the schools, leading the state to pay $2.5 million toward Coralville schools each year.       

But city officials argue that their investments have helped the economy boom — $757 million in retail sales last year, a more than fourfold increase since 1997 — and that the debt will be paid. They blame General Growth for stirring much of the criticism, saying the developer was upset that Von Maur went to the Iowa River Landing and not the mall.

To me, this raises the question of whether libertarian groups, like those funded by the Koch brothers, will aggressively go after public-private partnerships generally.  And if they do, will that raise the ire of traditioanl conservatives, such as those often found in the real estate and development communities who often need such public funding mechanisms to make large private projects a reality? 

Perhaps this will become one way in which the larger "civil war" within the Republican party plays out in land use issues.

Stephen R. Miller

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