Sure, two or three decades ago, there may have been some truth to the notion that the American city is a union-driven bastion of populist progressive economics. But today, while cities may still largely vote Democratic, they are increasingly embracing the economics of corporatism. The result is that urban areas are a driving force behind the widening intra-party rift between the corporatist, pro-privatization Wall Street Democrats and the traditional labor-progressive “Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.”
It is not just the question of support for labor that shows a severe case of the emperor's new clothes. Labor unions can be divided and conquered with empty calls of "jobs, jobs, jobs" without reference to how jobs are created or their quality.
The false pretense of urban progressives is also exposed by how funding mechanisms like tax-increment financing are deployed and whose benefits are consequently maximized.
Mayor Karl Dean has not used tax-increment financing to build and maintain infrastructure dedicated to broad public benefit (unless you define a library tacked on to the larger scale Bellevue Mall redevelopment as "broad'). He has used it exclusively for economic development to give millions to private enterprise to finance construction of the hotel connected to the Music City Center, and he has given indications he could use TIF to build a new ballpark to convince the Nashville Sounds to stay. In this city it is wealthy corporations who benefit most from TIF financing with the assumption that some overflow benefits will trickle down to the rest of us.
In other cities, like Chicago, some are warning about the damaging effects of trickle-down TIF on neighborhoods:
A report released by Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel’s appointed TIF Taskforce states that “the existence of TIF districts increases the individual tax burden on property owners both inside and outside of TIF districts.” All city residents have to pay more taxes every year to build this pool of development money.
TIF money is intended to help create economic development in low-income, blighted neighborhoods. But instead, city officials often give TIF dollars to multimillion dollar corporations based in the downtown area — entities that least need the assistance.
For example, documents on the city's TIF website indicate that the City awarded the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) $15 million in October 2009. Chicago's TIF website also shows that United Airlines was awarded a total $31.3 million in TIF money in two different deals in September 2009 and October 2007.
Faced with cuts to libraries, mental-health clinics, and police-station closings, residents do not understand why money can be found for downtown corporations, but not for crucial neighborhood services.
I am at a loss to explain how trickle-down economics--the mantra of Ronald Reagan (called "voodoo economics" by his Vice President George H.W. Bush)--is now embraced by Democrats and progressives. Nashville is thick with supporters of trickle-down TIF. But it is almost like we mimic Chicago as our model of top-down, corporatist development.
Karl Dean telegraphed these commitments at the beginning when he maintained that his campaign troika of economic development, education reform, and public safety would take care of neighborhood issues on the back end. However, community development has been an afterthought to unbalanced, top-heavy growth, and neighborhoods seem worse off than they were when Dean first became Mayor. That is hardly progressive.
And don't even get me started on the sales tax revenues regressively redirected--without Courthouse protest--to the Nashville Predators ownership and away from Metro services to pay for our infrastructure.