Charlotte O’Hara has made criticizing the widespread use of public finance incentives, like tax increment finance districts and sales tax revenue (STAR) bonds, a keystone of her campaign for Overland Park mayor.
So when the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce presented a letter to the city council at a meeting last week voicing its continued support for “public/private investment,” it piqued O’Hara’s interest.
In the letter, signed by chamber president Tracey Osborne and its board of directors, the group characterizes the use of public finance incentives as a significant driver of growth in the city.
“Overland Park’s history of incentivizing, or more appropriately, investing in job creation and economic growth, is best described as forward-thinking, judicious and conservative,” read the letter. “This Council, and those preceding it, have applied the tools available to you on a careful and analytical basis.”
The chamber points to companies like Black & Veatch, U.S. Bank and Zurich as having brought new jobs and property taxes to the area after benefitting from public finance incentives. But in recent years, the council’s approval of incentives for some developments has drawn scrutiny. The Prairiefire development in southern Overland Park, for instance, has performed well below projections, despite benefiting from STAR bond financing.
O’Hara is among those who think Overland Park’s use of tax incentives has spun out of control.
“A vast majority of these projects would go forward without public handouts,” she said. “Overland Park is a great city, it is not a blighted area where public money is needed to entice development…The free market works. My advice to the Chamber and the big corporations benefiting from government handouts: try it, you’ll like it!”
In its statements in support of the continued use of incentives, the Chamber took on such criticisms.
“While it’s politically popular to talk about ‘corporate welfare’ or ‘winners and losers,’ this investment, the way Overland Park applies it, has been a win-win all around,” Osborne said. “As the voice of business, we pledge our continued support and partnership in our mutual missions to create jobs and enhance our quality of life amenities. We encourage and endorse continued public investment in Overland Park’s infrastructure, public safety and economic development.”
The Chamber’s full letter is embedded below: