Op-Ed: Paying People to Live Here

May 25, 2018

by David Penticuff

It is promising for my community that the spending of its county economic growth council is coming under official scrutiny this summer.

Historically, the council has gotten most of its yearly funding from the Economic Development Income Tax (EDIT), a local income tax for county residents. While the so-called growth council started as a private not-for-profit, it has been taking tax dollars to supplement its own growth rather than the prosperity of our community.

Back in 2011, our county council approved dedicating 12 percent of EDIT revenues for the growth council. They did not dedicate themselves, however, to overseeing the spending of those tax dollars.

Now, as tax revenue fails to meet the county’s growing needs, a county councilman is taking another look at the growth council and what it is doing with public money automatically handed to the organization each year.

According to IRS form 990 from 2016, the last publicly available, the growth council had $1.13 million in total revenue that year, with more than $639,000 arising from its own investment income.

“The Growth Council budget looks very different from the county’s budget right now, because we’ve given them that kind of money,” the county councilman said. “The question is whether tax dollars should be going to the Growth Council . . . Although they are private, I regard them as a county department, and all department budgets are on the table (for cuts) this summer.”

We hope one of the areas for cuts will be the “Grants for Grads” program in which the growth council provides a handout to anybody who stay in or come to our county during their years after graduation.

For new college educated renters, the program offers a grant for $2,500 that can be used for up to a year for rental assistance. The money is given to the apartment complex office and used as a credit on behalf of the approved renter until the balance is used. For homeowners, a gift up to $5,000 can be used as down payment assistance on a home purchase.

As with any giveaway, the program has a waiting list. It is sort of the ultimate in the growth council philosophy of paying businesses through incentives to settle in our county. Now, rather than develop the county into a place more people want to live here, we simply help the college educated pay for housing here.

Never mind that college educated people probably already have an incentive to be here — it’s called a job. If they don’t have one of these in the vicinity, they are not coming here.

The college-educated tend to have a measure of affluence because of their employment.

Nothing against the folks who take advantage of the program. You don’t need to be poor to want more money. And if someone is going to hand it to you, well, why not?

It sort of reminds us of that hit the group Badfinger made of the Beatles’ song “Come and Get It”:

Did I hear you say that there must be a catch?

Will you walk away from a fool and his money?

Except that a good deal of it is our money.

David Penticuff, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, is editor of the Marion Chronicle-Tribune, in which a version of this essay was published April 18.



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