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Challenging the Business-Growth Gospel

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What is this crap about the importance of attracting more businesses to the city? They throw it out like a line from the Bible or something -- especially mayoral candidates Mike Rawlings and Ron Natinsky.

Got to "grow that tax base." Only way we can grow that tax base is by attracting more businesses, they say.

Since when did business pay the freight around here? Go look at the property values on the Dallas Central Appraisal District website. All the real growth in this city in the last 10 years has been in residential. The market value of all residential property in the city has risen almost 65 percent in 10 years.

In the same 10 years, the market value of all commercial real estate is up only 31 percent. The value of commercial inventories is up a sluggardly 2.9 percent.

Dallas's growth sector is neighborhoods, not businesses. In 2000, residential was 40 percent of the total tax base. In 2010, it was 47 percent, and not because commercial was going down. Commercial was growing, just not as fast as residential.

You know what else is a load? The idea that the only way to grow the residential tax base is by getting more people to move into the city.

Listen, I did a study of my own block in East Dallas. Our values went up 125 percent in 10 years, and we're a historic district. We can't tear anything down by law, or I would. Nobody was knocking down houses and putting up apartments. People were just improving the houses that were already there.

Guess who the big winner (loser?) was on our block for increased tax value. We had a really crappy falling down house that some people thought should be bulldozed. Historic preservationists literally stepped in front of the bulldozers to save it. It was in The News. I joined them, but just for the disobedience.

That house went up 449 percent in value in 10 years!

That kind of increased tax base is not from new people moving in. That's from the same people staying put and improving the values of their homes. People who fix up their houses are a way bigger economic engine for the city than either population growth or business recruitment.

I'm not against business. The more business the merrier. I'm not against new people. I just want to point something out. The dollar growth for the city is in helping stable neighborhoods improve themselves. We could let the whole business side slide (not that we should), put all of our resources into creating better neighborhoods instead and still come out way ahead.

Part of the problem with commercial, of course is that the values at which commercial properties are taxed are often substantially below market values. For whatever reasons (and I think I know what some of them are), the Dallas Central Appraisal District seems to like to low ball commercial values.

Part of it may be that businesses are smarter and more aggressive than homeowners about protesting their values. Part of it is that commercial values are just harder for DCAD to hit than house values, so DCAD consistently errs on the low-ball side.

A bigger part is that the slut marchers on the Dallas city council consistently give away the store, granting big tax discounts to commercial taxpayers who ply them with campaign contributions.

But what does all of that tell you? It tells you that businesses are a relatively lousy bet for beefing up the tax base.

We homeowners, on the other hand, actually pay our taxes. So that ought to mean that we're the ones who deserve some respect around this burg. For a change.

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