Is fiscal sanity returning to City Hall? KC could put kibosh on some downtown subsidies

City Hall moved closer Wednesday to trimming taxpayer incentives for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s move to downtown Kansas City.

The total incentive package for the USDA move is roughly $26 million. The city was expected to kick in $6 million of that; instead, a council committee on Wednesday recommended capping the city contribution at a little more than $1.6 million.

Where will the other $4.4 million come from? Probably from Kansas City’s port authority, known as Port KC. It anticipated a multi-million dollar windfall from the USDA project, but will now be expected to restore most of that cash to the incentive package.

“This change saved taxpayers $4.4 million that they simply shouldn’t be on the hook for,” Mayor Quinton Lucas said.

We’ve been skeptical about the entire incentive deal because local and state subsidies for the federal government make no sense. But it was particularly egregious that Port KC planned to take out millions for its own purposes as part of the subsidy agreement.

Wednesday’s ordinance also requires Port KC to explain its plans for spending the remaining part of its windfall. It’s a sign fiscal sanity is returning to City Hall.

The City Council should approve the changes as quickly as possible.

After that, it can move on to reject public subsidies for other downtown projects. On Wednesday, Lucas tried to drive a stake through the heart of two controversial plans still on the agenda — a luxury hotel, known as Bravo, and an office building called Strata.

“They may not realize it yet. The hotel Bravo deal will fail,” the mayor told The Star Editorial Board. “Strata should fail. That’s just a project that keep living to die another day.”

News that those projects may be drawing their final breaths should be good news to Kansas Citians tired of excessive handouts for unneeded buildings. Kansas City should not subsidize hotel rooms for rich people or office space without a tenant.

And City Hall should not subsidize new downtown amenities while distressed neighborhoods are still struggling. As a candidate, Lucas made that commitment during the campaign, and it’s encouraging that there is at least some progress to report.

In his meeting with the Editorial Board, Lucas said he is moving as quickly as he can to nominate new members to important boards and commissions that recommend subsidies, or, in the case of Port KC, hand them out. That process should accelerate.

The push-and-pull between developers and taxpayers will undoubtedly continue because the thirst for putting taxpayers at risk for private profit never dies. But the City Council appears to be moving in the right direction for the first time in years.

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