Money flows uphill in Dallas, Texas.
No news flash there.
It is the reality in every major American city.
Dallas has a long history of handing over public funds to undergird and benefit economic development that, for the most part, benefit a segment of our community that is already quite well off.
Examples abound from our past and our present. Stadiums, upscale marketplaces and hotels, infrastructure improvements and transportation access--again and again my hometown has directed enormous amounts of public capital uphill toward already existing networks of wealth and affluence.
No doubt, many of these projects have delivered some benefit to persons "below."
Jobs have been created; tax revenues--though often limited or set aside completely for years by the terms of the various development deals--have grown; tourism, sports culture and recreation have all expanded as a result of such public policy decisions.
By comparison though, investment at the bottom in communities of great disadvantage has been miniscule.
Furthermore, whenever there has been the slightest movement toward creating advantage for such neighborhoods, resistance always arises, follow through is lackluster and political posturing takes over.
Recently, after making a presentation about how investment "at the bottom" makes a bigger difference by far for the entire community than investment and tax incentives awarded to those "at the top," a former City Council member and well-known community leader approached me with a point to make.
"Larry, it doesn't have to be either/or. It can be both/and. Investments at the top make a huge difference!" she told me with rising emotion.
She went on to reference a recent real estate deal downtown that resulted in a huge event center development and what she claimed amounted to over $7 million in new tax revenue annually.
I tried to keep my cool--something that is getting harder and harder as I observe life among the poor in Dallas and across the nation.
I pointed out that I had been in Dallas for most of my life (since 1953) and that I had observed the "either" for so long that I felt it was time for an extended dose of the "or." I suggested that equivalent amounts of investment and economic incentives provided for developers who were interested in improving life in inner city neighborhoods could produce much greater return to our public coffers, but that we never make those investments.
Of course, she didn't agree. I didn't back down. She found me perturbing and insolent, I expect as I pressed my argument against the foolishness and fallacies of our "supply-side" or "trickle-down" economic practices.
Dallas suffers from a grave lack of political and moral will. Often our deficiency expresses itself as simple greed.
The Dallas story spotlights the problem with current public policy in our country. Not everything is about individual choice and responsibility. Countless public decisions that affect how a city does business produce very negative results for those who need new opportunity the most.
It's the system.
It needs to be changed for the benefit of everyone in Dallas.
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