A news report in a local paper reawakened some bad memories. The story was about enterprise zones, programs meant to breathe life into depressed areas. The project under review included portions of a tony area in the heart of the city. Developers were going the make a fortune and enjoy some hefty tax breaks along the way.
Governments rarely undertake urbanization projects on their own. Instead, they bow to the wisdom of the private sector, enticing it with generous tax breaks. Unfortunately, once public funds fall into private hands, there’s no guarantee to the tax payer about how the program will unfold. More likely, the poor get driven from their affordable housing, and jobs promised to area residents fail to materialize because there’s no skill match. Like the one in the report, many of these developments get targeted in areas already in the process of becoming gentrified (“Opportunity Costs,” by Bryce Covert, The New Republic, Jan/Feb, 2019, pg. 5)
Once developers gain control of a project, they are free to pick low hanging fruit — meaning projects that benefit them more than the public. Take a hard look at Donald Trump’s patter about rebuilding America’s infrastructure, for example. Mainly, he’s talking about privatizing roads, (toll roads) most of which exist in well-traveled communities. (Ibid, pg. 5.) Projects in rural areas largely go ignored. And while the “Joint Committee on Taxation estimates tax incentives in opportunity zones will cost the citizenry $1.5 billion a year for the first eight years.” (Ibid, pg. 6), not a drop of that money will go to improve Flint Michigan’s water system.
Chants that call for taxing the rich sound just. But big money pools in the private sector where some of the richest and largest corporations don’t pay a cent.