Considering TIF at Lehigh Dairy site – use the “but for” test

Lehigh County Commissioners heard a presentation by the Whitehall Township director of Industrial and Commercial Development outlining a proposal to consider utilizing a TIF on the long vacant Lehigh Dairy site.

Without a TIF would we see desirable economic development on this site?

Without a TIF would we see desirable economic development on this site?

I don’t know much about this site other then it’s the potential centerpiece for redevelopment of a long declining section of Whitehall corridor that serves as a gateway to the City of Allentown with immediate highway access.

As for TIF’s I’ve outlined in detail here over the last year what fundamental criteria for their application should be. That is the “but for” test. The name comes from the expression, “economic development would not occur but for the use of TIF.” In other words do you get desired development in a municipality, or a more specific corridor unless support is available from TIF.  (or insert whatever ‘ABC’ tax tool)

If desired economic development (justified by dollar and cent calculations *not to be confused with a specific proposed development) will happen without TIF, then TIF should not be considered or used because it would cost taxpayers over the long run.

As an example, in Lower Macungie the TIF for Hamilton Crossings was very clearly not at all necessary to induce desired economic growth in our community. Certainly not at all along the Hamilton Corridor. *Note, that today without any TIFs we have sketch plans floating for 2 more new large strip malls. One that could rival Hamilton Crossings in size. Both without using government assistance. Furthermore, after the County refused the Hamilton Crossings TIF and the project still moved forward it became crystal clear – at least for Lower Macungie whose portion was less significant then the county – that our fractional portion of the TIF would never have stopped the project had we not agreed.

Using this as a lesson, the first question County Commissioners need to ask is “but for” this assistance do we get desired economic RE-DEVELOPMENT of this gateway corridor? With Hamilton Crossings, the County got it right. They need to ask the same questions here. I don’t know what the answer to that is. But if the answer is yes, we stop right there. Reserve TIF’s (and other economic development tools) for where they are needed as a last resort. To use them otherwise is picking winners and losers. Not a business the government should involve itself in.