Uneven Patchwork: Tax Increment Financing in Kansas City
Michael P. Kelsay, Ph.D., UMKC Department of Economics
Study commissioned by ReclaimDemocracy.org/kc

Executive Summary

Kansas City, Missouri, like many other cities, uses Tax Increment Financing (TIF) as an economic development tool to attract and retain business and jobs. TIF, in theory, has the dual purpose of reducing adverse conditions like blight while enhancing the tax base. In a TIF project taxes are frozen at pre-TIF levels, and the property tax that would have been due on the increased value of the property is abated and diverted by the taxing authority (city, county, school district) to the TIF Commission which uses the money to cover its costs and to reimburse the project developer for costs covered in the TIF plan or to repay a revenue bond issued for the plan. This is called payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT)

Missouri is one of only nine states which also abate Economic Activity Taxes (EAT) and one of only four states which include earnings and profit taxes in addition to sales and use taxes in EATs. Kansas City, Missouri also allows Super TIF which permits the usual 50% abatement on EATs to rise to 100%.

This study of the record of Kansas City’s TIF asked several specific questions: What is the overall pattern of approval of TIFs city-wide over time? For what purposes is TIF being used? How stringent are the tests used by the TIF Commission and the City Council to insure that TIF is only used where it will create the most needed economic development and not fund projects which would occur without incentives?


1. The use of TIF and particularly the inclusion of EATs has grown rapidly in Kansas City over the past few years. The amount of redirected tax revenues transferred to the TIF Commission has surged by 208% between fiscal 2000 and 2004. EATS grew by an equivalent 204%. That growth coupled with findings that actual revenues of TIF plans accounted for only 23% of projected revenues should create serious concerns among the citizens and elected officials.

2. EATs are difficult to calculate and administer. Lacking the use of a cost-benefit analysis, that would estimate the amount of substitution of economic activity as a result of TIF, EATs may simply be redirecting taxes away from another TIF or non-TIF business and thereby negatively affecting tax revenues.

3. Demographic characteristics of the Council Districts where TIF plans have been approved demonstrate that TIF is rarely utilized in areas of the City that are most in need of redevelopment: o 88% of TIF plans are in four Council Districts (1, 2, 4, and 6) which contain the two-thirds of the city’s population who are the most affluent, best educated and least likely to be members of a minority group. o The two Council Districts (3 and 5) with one-third of the population who have the lowest income and the highest rates of poverty and unemployment receive only 12% of TIFs.

4. The vagueness of Missouri law creates a situation whereby the City is encouraged to overuse TIF without performing the necessary cost-benefit analyses or adequately insuring that but for the TIF, the project would not take place. This is increasingly putting the local public sector at financial risk.

5. The lack of an overall policy to guide the use of TIF means that TIF is not necessarily being used either in a responsible fiscal manner nor to achieve the best outcomes for the City’s scarce resources.

6. There are problems in the current rules governing the TIF Commission which involve conflicts of interest, disclosure, and access of the public to the process of decision-making.


1. If the Kansas City Council is to use economic development incentives to spur development, the poorer Districts need to be given additional consideration in the TIF process. The awarding of TIF or other incentives should be firmly grounded in a policy which sets priorities, adequately evaluates costs, benefits and risks and has clear goals shaped by an overall economic development plan.

2. The City needs to implement a comprehensive TIF policy such that TIF is used to achieve clear and substantial public benefits while protecting the financial condition of the City. Consideration should be given to “social” as well as fiscal effects of the policy.

3. The TIF Commission should be funded through the general fund rather than by the Commission receiving a portion of the redirected tax dollars that are generated by approved TIF plans. By funding the TIF Commission through general funds, administrative and operating costs would be more transparent to the taxpayers of Kansas City and a built-in conflict of interest would be eliminated.

4. As a component of the TIF policy, the City Council should require the use of clawbacks which tie incentives to performance. Specified levels of performance, and the consequences for not meeting them, should be agreed upon by the City and the developer in a legally binding contract. Consequences for not meeting the specified performance measures would include, but not be limited to (1) rescission of the incentive and reimbursement of the incentives including abated taxes and (2) penalties and fines for firms that do not meet certain performance measures, (e.g., specified job creation targets or relocating after receiving incentives).

5. The Kansas City Council should limit TIF Project funding to PILOTs and cease funding TIFs with EATs until an empirical analysis is made of the shifting of economic activity as a result of the TIF. A proposed methodology for such an analysis is in the full report. Such analysis may determine that EATs are rarely a truly beneficial form of funding TIF Projects.

6. The process of discussion and decision-making for TIFs must encourage far greater public participation. TIF must be opened to scrutiny with public notice beyond what is required by law. Greater transparency should be a component of TIF policy to be developed by the City Council. To that end, we recommend that the City Council constitute a citizens advisory committee to participate in the TIF approval process.