To keep the money where you raise it

Tax Increment Financing is amongst the many public financing methods that the cities in India need to explore further.

The City of Chicago, the third biggest city in United Sates of America, evidently requires a large revenue source to maintain the needs of a growing population of two million plus. It is in this attempt that there are various innovative financing methods used by the Chicago government to raise revenue. One of the methods that stands out is the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) method. It refers to a funding tool that allows the extra property tax to be used in the region itself.

TIF is generally used for a given region, whereby the taxes collected in the region are called base revenue and any amount collected above the base revenue is captured by the region itself. The taxes above the base revenue, incremental revenue, is used for economic development in the region earmarked under the TIF. It is usually spent on the public work or to attract private businesses in the region. TIF is usually used in regions that are declared “underdeveloped” and are considered to be dependent on the public expenditure for growth.

This method of funding have been supported by experts in urban planning like Donald C Shoup. The basic argument being that the citizens tend to pay more taxes if they can see tangible changes from their contributions. In his paper The High Cost of Free Parking, Shoup makes the case that the curb side parking revenue could be used to fund the Business Improvement Districts just like TIF is used for redevelopment projects from the increases in property tax revenues. TIF, therefore, acts as a pool of fund that can be used by the given region to attract business and economic opportunities based on the contributions by the population directly benefitting from it.

Although it may sound like a good idea, TIF has been severely criticised for being biased towards the business units and acting like a subsidy for the rich businesses. In their attempt to attract higher private investments, the regions tends to give large subsidies to the businesses. Thereby, diverging money away from the basic requirements like improving and maintaining infrastructure in the region.

The other major complaint regarding TIF is that it leads to development in the regions that do not need it as much. As TIF is collected from the funding made over and above the basic property tax, it is inevitable that regions with high income populations tends to collect higher funding as compared to poorer neighbourhood. Hence, TIF tends to limits the distribution of resources in a given region rather than help distribute it.

Having said that, TIF is an interesting tool that can be used to raise the local revenue and to incentivise higher tax collection in various wards in the city. The ward members can be made responsible for the use of the amount raised. The representatives being elected from each ward  will ensure that the members are directly accountable to the local population.

With Indian cities still struggling to find sources to raise revenue, TIF is at least a good option to explore.

Image: http://indypolitics.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/TIFS.jpg

Devika Kher is the Program Manger of Takshashila’s Graduate Certificate in Public Policy course and a policy analyst at Takshashila Institution. Her twitter handle is @DevikaKher.

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