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It’s hard for me to justify the City subsidizing one business at the expense of another. Should the City give the Marriott $20 million and a leg up over its competitor, the Sheraton across the street? Should North Hills get a tax exemption and a leg up over its competitors Crabtree Valley or Triangle Towne Center? How can the City justify letting one business pay lower taxes than its competitors? Or, for that matter, homeowners?

So, I have doubts about the City subsidizing John Kane’s new mall at North Hills. But what puzzles me is why Mayor Meeker is opposing Mr. Kane. Because if you support subsidizing businesses – as Mayor Meeker has repeatedly – Mr. Kane has a better case, than, say, the downtown Marriott the Mayor gave $20 million too.

Mr. Kane says he will spend a billion dollars of his own money to build North Hills East, which will pay the City $500 million in property taxes over the next 50 years, if the City will help him by granting him a fraction of that amount in property tax exemptions. If you believe in subsidies that sounds like a good deal for the City.

But the Mayor turned thumbs down.

Why is that puzzling? Here’s one example: Mr. Kane wants to City to do is assist him in building a parking deck for his development. The Mayor has already supported the City building an underground parking garage downtown for his hotel and convention center. So why is spending $40 million to build a parking deck downtown right and building one at North Hills wrong?

Mayor Meeker’s only explanation has been that tax exemptions, like the ones Mr. Kane is seeking, should only be used in underprivileged areas. But those aren’t ‘future’ tax exemptions the Mayor is giving away downtown; it’s cold hard cash. And how can he say downtown is underprivileged? The two tallest buildings in Raleigh, the Capitol, the Legislature, the Governor’s Mansion, and Memorial Auditorium are all downtown. There are museums downtown and so are the headquarters of several of the biggest businesses in North Carolina – like Progress Energy.

It’s hard not to ask the question: If Mr. Kane were spending his billion dollars downtown – would the Mayor be supporting his parking deck?

And it’s hard not to conclude that the Mayor, for some reason, favors subsidizing businesses downtown – but no where else. Perhaps it is as simple as he works downtown and lives downtown and is immeshed in the financial dealings around Fayetteville Street. Or, perhaps, he has a philosophical reason to believe downtown has a unique importance that other parts of Raleigh lack – so businesses there deserve subsidies. Whatever the reason, the members of the City Council should ask Mayor Meeker to explain his policy. Why is it good to subsidize businesses downtown – but not North Hills? Why is it a good idea to spend $500 million of taxpayers’ money to help businesses downtown – but a bad idea to offer John Kane tax exemptions so he will spend a billion dollars of his own money to bring new businesses to North Hills?

Personally, I’d rather not see the City subsidizing hotels or restaurants or supermarkets downtown or at North Hills. But if we are going to have tax subsidies for businesses, shouldn’t we have a debate about whether they should only be downtown?

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