Taxpayer money falls through 91 municipal cracks in St. Louis. The City and County spend $601.60 per capita more than Indianapolis-Marion County and $714.95 more than Louisville-Jefferson County—regions that have gone through successful City-County mergers.
In the past 20 years. Developers received approximately $2 billion diverted public tax dollars in the form of subsidies for private projects through Tax Increment Financing (TIF). Such investment would be expected to grow the region; conversely, the region's population declined by 45,615 from 2000-2012 and ranked 285th in the Country for unemployment rates in 2013.
Moreover, St. Louis schools forfeit potential revenue because TIF freezes property values, decreasing the revenue schools garner from property taxes. By the time freezes lift, developers can set municipalities against each other by threatening to move to more attractive environments to conduct business. Rather than compete with cities like Louisville, Indianapolis, Nashville, and Chicago, our glorified neighborhoods fight each other internally.
Once businesses pack up and leave town, tiny cities—43 of which occupy less than 1 square mile and 23 of which have populations fewer than 1,000—turn to the courts and police to raise revenue. Such actions end up disproportionately squeezing impoverished minority communities. With enough pressure and time, towns like Ferguson erupt and shake the entire region.
Our toughest and most protracted problems remain entangled in vicious circles, the roots of which spawn from fragmentation. Instead of pouring money into glorified neighborhoods we must invest in our region at large.
Governments provide more valuable returns on services to their residents, compete on a larger stage, provide schools with more resources, and erase psychological barriers that divide citizens by working together on a regional scale.
From TIF oversight to court reform, St. Louis City needs to be part of every dialogue that builds a stronger future for our region. It makes economic sense. It makes ethical sense. It makes common sense. St. Louis reaps what it sows.