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February 16th, 2009
Freethought San Marcos: Our bourgeois city council

Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR HANKINS

Maybe it’s not a trend, but it is starting to look like one. For twenty years, the San Marcos City Council has given millions of dollars in taxpayer money to purposes of their choosing. Most of these gifts have been economic incentives to corporations and other developers to do what they were planning to do anyway–build some new business or project, or expand an existing business or project that would create new jobs that pay, in most cases, below a living wage (the $17 an hour needed to support a minimum standard of living for an adult with one child).

The city council doesn’t even require the developers of these projects to take steps to increase the chances that San Marcos residents will get these new jobs. So far as I can determine, the city council doesn’t even monitor how many of the new jobs that have been created have been taken by San Marcos residents. There are no incentives for training San Marcos residents to take any new jobs that require special skills. There are no local employment fairs aimed only at San Marcos residents.

Nor are the incentives used to improve the availability of health care to the workers who do take these new jobs. No one on the city council shows concern for the young children of these workers by assuring that incentives go to employers who make provisions for day care. And no efforts are made to assure that workers can get to these new jobs by public transportation, easing congestion for all and reducing traffic pollution.

Now, the city council has begun the process to consider giving development incentives to a bunch of low-paying employers who want to offer entertainment venues at the old Springtown Mall, soon to be vacated by J. C. Penney, Bealls, and Target stores, all of which are moving to Stone Creek Crossing, a development awarded over $6 million in incentives for building a project it would have built anyway.

As reported by The Mercury, the Springtown Mall re-developers want “an economic development incentive package from the city that would forgive 80 percent of sales tax generated by the facility for 20 years.” This means the businesses would receive 80% of the sales taxes they generate during the 20 years. Apparently, the New Springtown Mall would become the Springtown Entertainment Center, a venue for more bars, pool halls, video arcades, a bowling alley, a movie theater, and more restaurants. Of course, these new businesses will have a competitive advantage over the existing entertainment businesses and restaurants in San Marcos (four of which are located at the mall now) because of the development incentives. And all of the jobs created, with the exception of a handful of management positions, will pay below a living wage.

San Marcos used to be unique in the corridor between Austin and San Antonio. We are now beginning to look like the cities found throughout the United States that surround an interstate highway. We have the same stores, the same designs, the same suburban sprawl. And the jobs don’t pay enough to support a family at a middle class level.

In a new initiative to give away more taxpayer money, the city council has decided to direct some of that money to benefit those who are already doing well: it has budgeted money to help well-paid university faculty buy homes in San Marcos. These people already live middle class lives. Their median incomes range from more than $59,000 to nearly $77,000 per year, depending on their teaching status at the university. Just why do we need to subsidize these well-paid folks? Because we don’t have enough residents who are paid as well as the university pays its faculty members, and the city council wants more of these middle-income folks living in San Marcos. As The Mercury has reported, one of the rationales for this largesse is that “more professors living in town will help improve the city’s demographics that employers consider when locating companies.” No one has explained publicly just what those demographics are.

Amy Madison, the city’s economic development director, said “It is pretty obvious that we have a lot of leakage when it comes to professors living in the city of San Marcos and we want to stop that leakage and help bring these leaders into our community.” She didn’t explain why being a university professor made one a leader, though some obviously are, since they have been elected to public positions.

Apparently, it has not occurred to the city council that if it focused its economic development incentives on businesses that would pay living wages, as does the university (at least to its faculty members), we would have more residents of all sorts able to afford better homes in San Marcos, stimulating the housing market.

Mayor Narvaiz has suggested that we should extend this housing subsidy program to city police officers. That may be a good idea, but why stop there? Why not include everyone whose income is below the faculty median wage? That would include most of the families in San Marcos. Don’t all of these people deserve to be treated as well as university professors? But maybe all of these folks don’t have the desired “demographics” that developers want.

Some might call this effort to attract more faculty members with housing incentives an elitist scheme. It just seems bourgeois to me. We now have a bourgeois-minded and acting city council that has forgotten about the needs of most of our citizens. It responds only to the entreaties of the economic development toadies from the chambers of commerce. Of course, these are the people city council members hobnob with and these are the people who lobby the council members incessantly to give more public resources to businesses. No lobby works for the average San Marcan, to direct some of the handouts to benefit the great majority of our residents.

I’m reminded of Huddie Ledbetter’s song, Bourgeois Blues. The last verse is slightly altered. I’m sure Huddie wouldn’t mind:

Me and my wife went all over town

And everywhere we went people turned us down

Lord, in a bourgeois town

It’s a bourgeois town

I got the bourgeois blues

Gonna spread the news all around

Home of the brave, land of the free

I don’t wanna be mistreated by no bourgeoisie

Lord, in a bourgeois town

Uhm, the bourgeois town

I got the bourgeois blues

Gonna spread the news all around

I tell all the folks to listen to me

Don’t try to find you no home in San Marcos see

`Cause it’s a bourgeois town

Uhm, the bourgeois town

I got the bourgeois blues

Gonna spread the news all around

With a bourgeois city council, it won’t be long before the whole town is made up of nothing but bourgeoisie and everybody else will have to move to some less-than-living-wage ghetto. I guess our demographics will be perfect then.

© Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins

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6 thoughts on “Freethought San Marcos: Our bourgeois city council

  1. I agree that we should be focusing our energy (and our incentives) on bringing *careers* to San Marcos. How much more engaged would our students and their families be, if there were some path to success, something to strive for, right here in San Marcos? How many of the town and gown issues would improve, if there were careers here for the graduates of Texas State; if Texas State students could envision a future for themselves here, beyond the 4 years they spend in school?

    And, since we’re giving away down payment assistance, how about some for returning vets and for SMCISD teachers who demonstrate some success in improving the graduation rates and SAT scores, particularly for our underserved Hispanic students?

  2. Also, I see that sales tax revenue is down 5%, according to the state. I can only assume that this is prior to any rebates, as the state probably does not track that sort of thing. Does anyone know what the *real* revenue looks like, after all of the rebates?

  3. The CAD prepares a summary of the performance of San Marcos city council tax abatement and development incentives agreements. I looked at these two years ago and will probably do so again. The reports give minimal information concerning compliance with all of the agreements. Some of the incentives are fee waivers. The big money, of course, is in property tax abatements. I don’t recall any information about sales tax abatements, so that information may have to come directly from the city.

  4. “And, since we’re giving away down payment assistance, how about some for returning vets and for SMCISD teachers who demonstrate some success in improving the graduation rates and SAT scores, particularly for our underserved Hispanic students?”

    Ted I could not agree with you more.

  5. Lamar, you have nailed it as usual.
    It seems to me that the folks granting these abatements and similar are simply following the golden rule – treating their “friends” as they themselves would like to be treated. And what a power thing to be able to “grant” to their like-minded “friends” thousands (millions?) of dollars of relief. We do not need more bottom wage jobs. We do not need businesses that do not train our people for a better future. And we sure as heck do not need to $entice$ such businesses to locate in San Marcos. But we do get screwed by our leaders if we don’t scream bloody murder when they act in their own best interest rather than ours. We see this problem with the leaders of San Marcos and we are now seeing it all too clearly with the damage done to us by the leaders of our country. It’s like none of us has the power to really do anything about it. We’re all out there trying to make a living and get by as best we can – day to day and week to week – while those in power have as their job the “duty” to make sure they stay in power.

  6. One of the saddest issues in San Marcos is that there are some really talented people who live here, spend all their money here, and that work in surrounding cities because of income and job potential or because most of the employers refuse to look for talent here. Over the last couple of years our city, county and private entities have started to look not just outside our fair city but to other states, and they won’t even advertise for it here. No one finds out until it’s too late.Or maybe it’s the old political game of “not what you know, but who you know”.

    It’s a sad day in a city when they believe that they don’t have any local experienced talent.

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