Put the brakes on the KC streetcar
The Kansas City Star
I’ve been fascinated by Occupy Wall Street. Where the protesters miss is they’ve set their sites on the wrong group of people.
Their villain is said to be the top 1 percent of earners. It’s true that a very few of the ultra-wealthy do have too much sway over others.
However, the real power is not held by their targeted hard-working business people but by our government and faceless bureaucracy within our ruling class.
There is a book titled, “Economics In One Lesson.” Without giving away the ending, the author, Henry Hazlitt, argues that when government interferes in the markets under the guise of “trying to help” there are always consequences that were never intended, and in many cases these secondary consequences are, more times than not, the exact opposites of what was planned.
Kansas City continues to prove Hazlitt’s point. Our economic bombs have include the Citadel Project, American Airlines overhaul base, Bartle Hall, the Kemper Arena, the 18th and Vine Historic Jazz District, and my personal favorite, the Power & Light District. Most are beautiful venues, and all economic failures, in varying degrees.
The problem is, unlike private businesses that tend to disappear when unsuccessful, government failures merely lead to more money being extracted from you and me.
Look no further than the $100 million streetcar project. Before a vote was cast, as reported here, our city has doled out more than $1 million on planning and engineering.
Kansas City tells us we have a budget crisis. Our water rates increased 12 percent this year, and we live with the threat of firefighter and police layoffs. Yet our city can drop a million on engineering and sees no problem with $50 million per mile for a streetcar.
Our resourceful city said this money is from “surpluses,” which is government speak for “your money we haven’t spent yet.” Again, has anyone but a handful had a say in these expenditures?
Star readers are led to believe that all is kosher because there will be a vote cast of the 555 registered voters. Our population is roughly 460,000 and a mere 555 can begin to encumber our downtown with this project.
What is seldom heard is that a large percent of the owners of the property within the streetcar district don’t live in the district. Hotels, apartments, office buildings, and commercial real estate make up the lions share of the area, and their owners will have no vote on the property tax being levied against them.
If you think this project is beginning to look like a tiny group railroading businesses, an already depressed commercial real estate market, and every hotel in the downtown area footing the bill for a 2-mile streetcar, you’d be correct.
It’s all perfectly legal and it stinks.
The argument is always that with just a little help from taxpayers, this area will thrive, create jobs and provide city revenues. And without it, the area will not.
These tired excuses lose their effectiveness when you consider that private dollars built the $326 million Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts located in the middle of the Streetcar Transportation District’s area.
If our city government, the real villainous 1 percent, gets its wish and bestows its help we’ll see Hazlitt’s predictions come true; economic savvy businesses will avoid this area for more tax-friendly environments and an already depressed commercial real estate market will dip further.
We will see economic growth. Unfortunately it will all be found in the pockets of engineers, lawyers and contractors paid healthy sums for a streetcar that should be named disaster.
G. Joseph McLiney, of Kansas City, runs a private investment firm specializing in municipal finance. To reach him, send email to email@example.com or write to Midwest Voices, c/o Editorial Page, The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108.