The recent news that the Center City Commission apparently has been steering business to companies owned by its members is another demonstration of the incestuous links between property developers and the City of Memphis.
Memphis’ Center City Commission, a joint project of the Memphis and Shelby County governments, has been given the leading role in revitalizing downtown through its power to give tax incentives to developers and businessess who decide to operate in the downtown area. While it isn’t clear whether the economic activity it is “promoting” is a result of the tax breaks or just rational market decisions that would have been made without them, it is clear that many of the benefits have been going to politically-connected property developers. So it should come as no surprise that the commission has apparently been steering business to its own members. The real question is why people who stand to benefit (directly or indirectly) from the CCC’s decisions are permitted to sit on its board.
While it is often the case that interested parties ought to be involved in the decision-making process, they should not be permitted to be the final arbiters of who receives tax breaks and who doesn’t. And it is questionable whether unelected officials should be allowed to spend monies that would otherwise be contributed to the city and county general expenses and public education budgets (while the recipients of tax breaks do pay reduced amounts, the amounts they do pay benefit the CCC rather than the community as a whole).
A better approach would be an overall cut in property taxes. Reduced property taxes would encourage people to reside in Memphis and Shelby County, instead of in adjoining states and counties, and would be an incentive for all businesses–not just politically-connected or prestigious ones–to locate in this community. Of course, that would end the “come downtown, we’ll build you a free parking garage” approach to business in Memphis, but one doubts the average taxpayer would mind one bit.