A popular political bumper sticker reads, “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” Citizens of the small, Central Texas town of Taylor now have a reason to do both: Taylor’s City Council has given away over $200,000 in tax money to build a pizza restaurant amusement center. Even worse? They were encouraged to do so by a state university.
The national pizza chain Gatti’s has a number of arcade-style pizza restaurant franchises called “Gattiland” that bill themselves as “eater-tainment” centers.
At the May 22nd Taylor City Council meeting, leaders put their taxpayers on the hook for $200,000 cash and future tax rebates to go toward the “eater-tainment” center.
The new 12,500 square foot complex will be on Taylor’s north main street, less than a half a mile away in both directions from two competing pizza restaurants. Domino’s Pizza is three-tenths of a mile to the north and Pizza Hut is two-tenths of a mile to the south. One can only guess how those franchise owners feel about their tax dollars being used to subsidize their new competition.
According to a local news outlet in Taylor, much of the justification for the taxpayer-funding of the project came from the results of a Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) report commissioned by the Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Council, and local governments in the area. The report identified “lack of youth activities/hangouts” as a weakness in the local economy of the 16,000-person community.
Cities can dole-out money to choose winners and losers thanks to the state’s laws governing local economic development incentives. Chapter 380 of the Texas Local Government Code allows cities to grant taxpayer funds to certain business to “stimulate business and commercial activity in the municipality.”
If this seems unfair and arbitrary, it’s because it is. Imagine being the operator of one of the pizza restaurants flanking the new taxpayer-subsidized pizza palace. You pay taxes and fees to the city, yet your business is not granted a similar advantage of taxpayer funds.
While these ridiculous incentives might seem surprising, it is probably not surprising that the leadership of Taylor has a close association with reckless spending: Jesse Ancira, Chief of Staff to Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, is the Mayor of Taylor.
Citizens of Taylor and Texans at-large deserve strong protections for taxpayers against this kind of crony-corporatism. The role of the city government shouldn’t be to give certain businesses in a community a taxpayer-subsidized advantage over competitors. While Taylor’s citizens will soon be able to go to the new Gattiland to eat pizza they’ve already paid-for, it would do them well to be hungry for something else: a change from fiscally reckless leadership.