Editorial: City must act on TIFs, PILOTs

A task force studying the use of TIFs and PILOTs in Baltimore issued an insightful and informative report last week with 11 written recommendations that should be the starting point for reforming the city’s use of these increasingly popular but often misunderstood financing devices that have serious potential ramifications for Baltimore’s economic development and its fiscal health.

In adopting its written report, the some members of the task force also verbally endorsed a moratorium on new TIFs (tax increment financing) and PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes) until city officials review the recommendations.

That recommendation was immediately rejected by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, whose spokesman said, “To hold up TIF or PILOT legislation would be reckless and threatens to kill job creation in the city.”

We disagree.

Without a moratorium, there is little incentive for the mayor and City Council to do anything meaningful with the recommendations or anything at all, for that matter.

Already we are hearing from Councilman Carl Stokes, who formed the task force, that the council is expected to take up the recommendations early next year. That would be 12 months after the task force had its first meeting. Are they using Eastern Standard Time or Congressional Time?

And whenever the council finally lurches into action, the mayor may want to get involved as well, which will take even more time.

Councilman Stokes and his task force have done good work. Their recommendations are sound and deserve immediate, thoughtful attention.

The recommendations confront very basic issues, such as independent monitoring of TIFs and PILOTs, better integration of the city’s economic development and financing tools, and standard criteria for profit-sharing on all projects.

At the base of all of this must be greater transparency for the complicated financial machinations underlying TIFs and PILOTs.

Here’s the good news. The task force has already done most of the heavy lifting. There is much good research, local and national, supporting its recommendations.

Now it’s time to respect this work with more work and develop much-needed new policies to improve public accountability and transparency.

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