Experimental evidence from UC Berkeley strongly confirms that rich people are more likely to break the law while driving, cheat in a game of chance, lie during negotiations and endorse unethical behavior, including stealing at work. Conversely, take someone who is rich and make them feel poor, and they become more generous. But clever fat cats merely exploit the window dressing of charity to further enrich and empower themselves. Nick Checota’s LogJam Foundation is a good case in point. While Checota’s $50,000 Public Library wealth transfer is being framed as a “donation”, the real incentives for parking money in foundations involve huge tax benefits. And despite Logjam’s claim that they are “committed to the sustainability of the community”, they demonstrate an utter contempt for said community by depleting the Missoula Redevelopment Agency piggy bank by $16.5 million. This week’s $50k “donation” seems little more than a public relations smokescreen to obfuscate the biggest taxpayer giveaway in Montana State history.
The sudden closure of the Old Post American Legion Hall this past Thursday illustrates the heartbreaking reality of our desperate economic climate. Dozens of other Missoula staples including the Uptown Diner, Palace Lounge and Stage 112 have been forced to close their businesses in recent years, but so too has it gone with homeowners who could no longer afford their property taxes. A huge proportion of these local establishments and citizens are squeezed out of neighborhoods they grew up in, while wealthy, out-of-state developers take advantage of our generosity and dramatically gentrify entire districts of the city at our expense. Controversial TIF projects have exploded the cost of housing in Missoula, pricing locals out of their own neighborhoods and saddling the City under decades of debt. Tax monies are being used to subsidize the rich while our schools and roads deteriorate. All this has contributed to one of the most heated City Council elections in the city’s history.
Desperate to retain capital investment, cities now entice developers with “geobribes” like Tax Increment Financing (TIF); a development incentive wherein cities designate areas “blighted” and issue bonds to pay for upgrades before handing it all over to private developers to build condos and theaters. Missoula awarded $1.5 million to Stockman Bank in TIF money. But since Missoula didn’t have the money in hand, Stockman Bank loaned Missoula the $1.5 million at 3.8% interest, to be given back to Stockman Bank as a subsidy they didn’t need at taxpayer expense. Now Mayor Engen threatens to further line the pockets of Wisconsin millionaire Nick Checota with more than $16 million in TIF. It turns out that all the controversial TIF developments have one thing in common – their owners contributed to Mayor Engen’s campaign. Just pay John and you can screw the taxpayers all you want. If we can afford to give Nick Checota $16 million, we can afford to fix our potholes and address poverty.
As Jeff Bezos transforms Seattle into a corporate nightmare, many are concerned that Wisconsin millionaire Nick Checota is doing the same to Missoula. There are already four major concert venues in Missoula owned and operated by Checota, but Mayor Engen and the Missoula City Council are forcing local taxpayers to further line Checota’s pockets with $16.5 million of local tax monies to help build another. Nick’s newest corporate eyesore, the Riverfront Gentrification Triangle may be the most costly and wasteful development in the town’s history.
To make matters worse, The Missoulian is peddling an awful rumor that the local community strongly supports and encourages this monstrous taxpayer giveaway. In a climate where a majority of Missoula taxpayers are struggling worse than ever to make ends meet, Checota has somehow convinced our intrepid representatives to further squeeze an already desperate community for just a little more.
Mayor Engen’s decision to suddenly move the Council vote from Monday the 21st to Wednesday the 16th highlights how politicians tend to hide where tax money is actually being spent.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Lee Enterprises propagandized Missoula by pigeonholing one citizen – Kevin Hunt – as “the only member of the public to speak critically about the project.”
But public comment at this week’s City Council meeting makes it abundantly clear that a far greater number of Missoulians loathe the idea of handing Nick Checota millions in tax money to construct yet another corporate monument to his ego. Nearly a dozen individuals took to the lectern Monday night to express Missoula’s increasing irritation toward the constant misuse and abuse of Tax Increment Financing or TIF – a tax collection scheme that funnels property tax money away from overburdened taxpayers to help rich assholes pay for really stupid shit.
Moreover, for TIFs to work, property values must increase forever, further guaranteeing that locals will be driven out of town. Constantly rising property taxes forces Missoulians to leave the buildings they inhabit, causing those buildings to be demolished and in-turn those areas are declared “blighted” thereby necessitating the use of ever-more TIF. Developers love this cycle of destruction because it’s good for business, but it’s bad for everyone else.
Paying for new projects with tax money that doesn’t exist yet seems a precarious gamble, but forcing Montanans to further enrich an obscenely wealthy Wisconsinite is just plain wrong. If the city continues to abuse TIF by siphoning tax money from hard working Montanans to construct objects of disgraceful gentrification, then TIF as a process should be banned and outlawed.
But the fundamental issue now is NOT whether this development is good for the community. The issue now is that our officials are installing one of the most significant development projects in the city’s history without the opinions of the people whose property taxes will pay for it.
The reasoning for abruptly fast-tracking the meeting couldn’t be more self-contradictory: Mayor Engen says he was trying to avoid rumors, so he thought that a good way to avoid rumors would be to sneak around and deliberately exclude home owners from necessary and critical discussion forums regarding the monstrosity they’ll be paying for?
The Missoula taxpayers didn’t consent to this, and consent is something Missoula should know a lot about. After all, Krakauer wrote a book about Missoula’s consent issues. That book was supposed to help put an end to our consent problems especially when it concerns city officials enabling criminal activity. But Nick Checota continues to Jam his Log down our throat anyway.
These kinds of shenanigans are why people have lost faith in democratic government; because crony-capitalism is just “organized crime” further enriching millionaire fat cats.
TIF money was used to further enrich Bill Coffee at Stockman Bank.
TIF money was used to further enrich Andy Holloran at the Mercantile.
TIF money was used to further enrich Peter Lambros at Southgate Mall.
And now a TIF larger than all the others combined will be used to further enrich Nick Chectoa.
Should it be our local government’s priority to further enrich local tycoons while homelessness in Missoula is now so bad that we have billboards announcing the exact number of homeless children in our town?
Tax Increment Financing shouldn’t act as the “silver bullet” the MRA and other wealthy interests turn to in order to extort tax money out of local citizens to pay for things we don’t need. If you can’t explain tax collection schemes to the people paying, then you shouldn’t be doing them.
The Missoula City Council and Mayor Engen refuse to account for fact that this vote was moved ahead of schedule with little reason or notice. Hiding a City Council vote on this very important issue is an absolutely despicable way to dispel troublesome rumors or increase voter confidence.
If the policies of the Mayor and the Missoula City Council benefit only extremely wealthy elite business owners and out-of-town hotel chains at the detriment of the citizenry, then what recourse do the people of Missoula have other than to exercise their electoral power and call for sweeping changes to the staffing of the City Council this coming November 5th?
We owe our children better than this.
We owe NOTHING to Nick Checota.
It seems the controversial Riverfront Triangle decision was fast-tracked this week by Missoula Mayor John Engen, who precipitated the vote nearly a week early of its scheduled time. Engen’s decision effectively raids Missoula’s public coffers for Nick Checota’s private gain. $16.5 million of Missoula’s tax money will be diverted to constructing yet another downtown hotel as well as yet another concert venue, owned by the same entertainment monopoly that owns most of the others: Logjam Presents, owned by Wisconsin millionaire Nick Checota.
Railroading public meetings to deliberately exclude taxpayers who pay for these monstrosities smacks of the despicable crony-capitalism Americans have grown to loathe. Engen and Checota succeed in turning an already controversial project into a scandal. As Checota attempts to Jam the Log of his monopoly down our ear holes and into our pocketbooks, many wonder if the city really has workers best interests in mind. And can’t that kind of money be better spent?
If you believe, as Martin Luther King did, that budgets are moral documents, then we are obligated to ask ourselves whether it should be our local government’s priority to further enrich local tycoons, while homelessness in Missoula is now so bad that we have billboards announcing the exact number of homeless children in our town. And a huge proportion of Missoulians are struggling worse than ever to make ends meet, but all the city can think to do is squeeze already desperate taxpayers for “just a little bit more” in perpetuity.
But thank God we also have all these music venues to get drunk at so we can forget about what a dumpster fire our town has turned into, right? And thank God we aren’t using taxpayer money to make the city a safer, healthier, more prosperous place to live.
The city wants you and me and all our neighbors to pay for Nick Checota’s fancy new eyesore; a venue that we don’t need, don’t want, and shouldn’t be talking about. There are already enough concert venues in this town owned and operated by Nick “monopoly” Checota; the Top Hat, Wilma Theater and Kettlehouse Amphitheater are the ones most of us know about, but he also enjoys exclusive booking rights at the Osprey Stadium, and now he’s branching out into Bozeman with The Elm. And it goes on and on. And it’s somehow never enough.
We the people of Missoula somehow have less agency over how our tax dollars are going to be spent, indeed extorted, by the likes of those who abuse Tax Increment Financing (TIF): Stockman Bank’s Bill Coffee, Andy “homebase” Holloran, Peter Lambros, and now Nick Checota.
If the city continues to abuse TIF by siphoning tax money from hard working Montanans to construct objects of disgraceful gentrification, then TIFs should be outlawed altogether. Becoming utterly dependent on future gains and projected earnings to pay for existing projects seems a precarious gamble when considering even short periods of American history. But forcing Montanans to further enrich an obscenely wealthy Wisconsinite is just plain wrong.
Oppressed cultures always see through the illusions of their authoritarian masters eventually and upon realizing their enslavement, revolt. But clever oligarchs all too often maintain their power by anticipating rebellions and controlling their flow. Ineffectual protests that fail to inconvenience the levers of power have become the norm, as have the “protest permits” that accompany them. With hundreds of competing ideologies, it is clear that everyone has a different idea of what the next world should look like. But we risk repeating history if we continue to impose individual utopian ideals onto each other by force. No system will work for everyone, which is why returning to an Iroquois Nation model of harmoniously coexistent factions can only manifest in the absence of centralized authority. The only unacceptable outcome would be for present trends to continue. Let us resist the temptations that ruined the Baby Boomers who bailed on the revolution for houses, cars and stair-masters.