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The "Mission Creep" of Iowa's Tax Increment Financing

February 1, 2012

DES MOINES, Iowa - The Tax Increment Financing (TIF) law has been part of Iowa's plan for urban renewal for more than 50 years - and it's about to get a new, closer look.

TIF's original goal was to eliminate inner-city blight, but the Legislature has altered the law over the years to include economic development and even some residential development.

TIF allows for taxes from these developments to go solely toward repaying the costs of the project. Peter Fisher, Iowa Policy Project research director, says that shortchanges other entities which would normally receive a slice of the property taxes. Fisher believes TIF funding has gotten out of hand.

"More and more cities are looking at that and saying, 'Hey, they're doing it. We're chumps if we don't do the same thing.' I think we are going down the road where there really is a train wreck."

Fisher says TIF has been used for converting farmland into industrial parks, building superstores and airports, and constructing upscale housing. He expects the Legislature this session to return Tax Increment Financing to its original intent.

"We need to make sure TIF is doing what it was intended to do - but only what it was intended to do."

Some Iowa lawmakers say TIF has been critical for development in their communities. State Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, has said the state's largest city's downtown core wouldn't have undergone recent improvements without it.

Dick Layman, Public News Service - IA