Monday’s meeting provided the opportunity for Columbia citizens opposing Enhanced Economic Zones (EEZ) to voice their opinions without counterpoint from the other side; proponents of the zones were not present. Citizens gathered in front of City Hall an hour early holding signs such as, “Fight the Blight,” “Don’t Tread on Me” and “Don’t Call My Home Blighted” in protest.
“If you lower property values, anyone who wants to sell a house might have a difficult time,” Columbia resident Spencer Vyrostek said. Vyrostek said he was also concerned about eminent domain abuse.
Show-Me Institute Policy Analyst David Stokes had different concerns. “There is no evidence that shows EEZs work,” Stokes said.
Stokes was given five minutes to speak to City Council. He said his research shows areas with EEZs do not perform better than cities without them. Stokes’s institute analyzed economic data regarding EZs (a precursor to EEZs, as we mentioned last week) from 1980 to 2005. According to Stokes’s testimony, the research showed:
- Total employment grew 40 percent in EZ counties and 51 percent in non-EZ counties.
- Labor Force grew 53 percent in EZ counties and 63 percent in non-EZ counties.
- Total personal income in the counties grew 351 percent in EZ counties and 384 percent in the non-EZ counties.
“The burden of proof is on the wrong foot,” Stokes said. “It shouldn’t be the community organizations, like Keep Columbia Free’s, job to proof EEZs don’t work. It should be the city organizations’ job to proof EEZs do work.”
Keep Columbia Free Treasurer Mitch Richards spoke next. He began his speech by questioning if the City Council represented Columbia.
He called it “absurd and unjust” to provide tax payer commodities to connected business people.
Under EEZ statutes tax credits can be sold to other companies. Richards said this was an unfair advantage for large businesses. He also questioned the use of taxpayer dollars to fund Regional Economic Development, Inc., or REDI.
“The city of Columbia pays $500,000 per annum from tax payers for REDI to lobby for more taxpayer dollars in the from of tax abatements,” Richards said.
He ended his speech by asking everyone who opposes EEZs to stand up. Nearly everyone in the room followed his direction and cheered, even though Mayor McDavid asked them not to earlier.
“We ask you to rescind the EEZ board,” Richards said. “We ask you to let us (Columbia citizens) decide our own future.”