Proposition 2 revisited
By Ken Midkiff
COLUMBIA, Mo 02/13/15 (Op Ed) -- The Columbia Daily Tribune's Alicia Stice and recently departed (for another job) Andrew Denney are essentially good reporters.
So as Columbia kicks off another round of campaigns and elections -- many of which will focus on development -- I'm pondering a question about electoral media coverage. Why have these two journalists, in article after article, misrepresented Proposition 2, calling it an "increase in fees", a "fee increase," and "an increase in development fees"?
Presumably they know Prop. 2 did not call for any fee increases. Defeated in November -- largely because its opponents kept selling it as a fee or tax increase -- Prop. 2 was instead a shift: of some fees from those who don't always or directly benefit – taxpayers – to those who do always or directly benefit: developers.
Prop. 2 was also a relatively minor shift: it didn't ask voters to assure developers bear all development fees, but only those related to transportation.
So is there an editorial policy requiring Tribune reporters to repeat a lie? Surely not.
Currently, taxpayers pay about 85% of all development costs. Prop. 2 would have had developers pay more of those existing costs. It was not the end of the world, nor would it have put a dent in development.
Nonetheless, realtors and developers acted as if a cattle prod was about to be jammed against their rear ends. And though Tribune editor-in-chief Henry J. Waters III recognized Prop. 2 for what it was -- a shift (he never referred to it as a fee increase) --he editorialized against it.
Developers, Hank reasoned, had enough burdens and should not have to assume more responsibility for their own fees.
Given that their own chief properly characterized Prop. 2, I'm back to my original question: Why do Tribune reporters keep calling it a fee increase?
This question is important because nothing has changed except the cost of development. It keeps going up, while taxpayers still pick up the 85% tab, most notably for infrastructure: streets, schools, sewers, police, power lines, water pipes, and so forth.
We keep hearing the mantra "Growth is Good," but we never hear important related questions.
Should Taxpayers (and Utility Ratepayers) Pay for It? Growth has benefits, certainly. But with growth comes a growing community tab.
At what point does the cost of growth exceed its community benefits? Proposition Two's strident opposition refused to even consider this question.
Likewise, Proposition 2's supporters failed to adequately articulate it -- or push back when their signature legislation was mischaracterized, by opponents and reporters alike.