Monday, August 13, 2012

Bass Pros gone wild

According to the Atlantic Monthly, a new report finds that over the past 15 years, cities and towns have earmarked $2.2 billion in taxpayer revenues to subsidize Bass Pro Shops in their communities. Bass Pro officials defend this sweetheart corporate welfare, which can drive smaller, locally owned companies out of business, by comparing their private enterprise to publicly held institutions like parks and libraries:

"These aren’t just stores – they are natural history museums," he says. "Every store is designed to reflect the unique natural environment of the area in which it is located." He adds that often a Bass Pro store is an anchor development that attracts additional retailers.

Nashville's Bass Pro
Then again, the amount of tax dollars that have been poured into these two companies would be enough to purchase every man, woman and child in the United States their own fishing pole.

Typically, these stores are financed through familiar economic development schemes like tax increment financing districts. Basically, a city borrows money by selling bonds on Wall Street and then pays off the debt with the increase in property or sales taxes generated in that TIF district.

At bottom Bass Pro is a profit making enterprise at odds with the more public purposes of municipal amenities that everyone has access to. So, comparing them to museums is a diabolical attempt to rebrand by erasing distinctions.

The City of Memphis has authorized the issuance of $215 million in bonds to fund Bass Pro even in the face of a report that finds that municipalities that bankroll Bass Pro have not always enjoyed the revenues and jobs that company PR flacks and lobbyists promise. The risks of handing over taxpayer money to the company can also lead to increased debt and unrealized tax revenues.

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