While voters will decide on a local use tax on Tuesday, the city is mulling over offering a $2 million tax break for a new downtown high-rise.

Tuesday was not going to be an election day, but the city and county took the opportunity to spend up to $240,000 to put a use tax measure to on the ballot.

If there’s low turnout, this could essentially get snuck by voters and passed with little fanfare.

As usual, local officials are out electioneering in favor of a ballot measure, while there is no organized opposition.

They continue to insinuate that citizens who buy anything online are some kind of tax scofflaws for avoiding their outdated sales tax regime. They bad-mouth a builder for buying materials from out of town.

Granted, the internet sales tax loophole should have been closed years ago. It is generally wise to get our local ducks in a row for if and when the feds and state get their act together to fix it.

But talking down consumers and businesses acting rationally in the current system is disheartening. Shopping election time slots wastes money — while the city can never seem to afford community policing — and it’s disingenuous.

While municipal revenues stagnate, a downtown developer is propositioning the city for a $2 million tax break to build a new hotel tower. Like you, dear reader, I was under the impression that downtown development was booming, so much so that infrastructure and parking was overloaded.

I recall just last year, the new Mayor Brian Treece implementing a 6-month moratorium on new downtown building permits. I thought the city couldn’t hardly beat ‘em off with a stick.

I walked by this plot in question the other day myself.

I could see at least four or five other high rises that had popped up in the last few years, just within a stone’s throw. Within a couple blocks or so in the near distance, several other new tall buildings and a construction crane or two thrust into the skyline.

Well, The Broadway Hotel owner says this lot exists in a pessimistic vacuum.

His presentation to the TIF Commission on Monday night says the lot behind his existing hotel tower is littered with “dog excrement” and “used prophylactics,” at risk of becoming blighted. He says no businessperson in their right mind would dream of taking a risk on this armpit of a parcel; he is its only possible savior, but only if armed with TIF.

Local taxing districts have been in approval of the previous two TIF projects in 2011, for downtown hotels either underutilized or in disrepair, while in the wake of a financial crisis. But now is different, downtown is far from depressed and the economy is not on the ropes.

Thus, the Board of Education is not convinced they need to forfeit potential revenue, as board member Jonathan Sessions put it, the ask is to “roll some dice” that new tower would be the only possible redevelopment of the parcel in question for the next 23 years into the future.

Is downtown a boomtown that necessitates putting on the brakes? Or a ghost town where we need to hand out tax breaks for anything to happen? Which is it?

While the city and other taxing districts deal with revenue struggles, this TIF proposal looks to further siphon cash from their treasuries.

While the city and county look to close the internet sales tax loophole, this TIF proposal purposefully creates another one so big you could drive a truck through it.

I’d vote no on Tuesday’s ballot to insist the city and county come back to us with an honest, straightforward use tax proposal.

Also, the city council should follow the TIF Commission’s recommendation to decline this proposal, which does not even meet the program’s own stated criteria.

Columnist Steve Spellman hosts “The Mid-Missouri Freedom Forum” on 89.5 KOPN at 5 p.m. every Tuesday.

About opinions in the Missourian: The Missourian’s Opinion section is a public forum for the discussion of ideas. The views presented in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Missourian or the University of Missouri. If you would like to contribute to the Opinion page with a response or an original topic of your own, visit our submission form.

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