Late last year, Charlotte elected a new mayor, Vi Lyles.  This week, she talked about her top priorities related to business and economic development.  Her list concerns, but doesn’t surprise, me.

As reported by the Triad Business Journal, her priorities include:

  • Keeping the Panthers
  • Connecting with businesses
  • Keeping the CIAA Tournament
  • Recovering from being cut from the Amazon HQ2 list
  • Getting the 2020 Republican National Convention

There’s nothing wrong with any of these things per se, but a lot of them may end up costing taxpayers pretty dearly.  Take the Panthers, for example.  The current deal that’s keeping them in Charlotte until 2019 included $75 million from the city.  That’s about $90 per Charlotte resident (including kids, not just taxpayers).  Everyone expects the Panthers to ask for even more, maybe hundreds of millions of dollars, as part of the next deal to keep them.  Is Vi Lyles essentially saying she’ll give them as much as they want, anything to keep them?

It’s a similar, if not as expensive, a story when it comes to the CIAA Tournament.  The city provides “$1.4 million in annual subsidies to the conference and other perks, including discounted and free rental rates for use of the arena and other city buildings.”  How much is all of that worth?  Taxpayers are footing the bill, so is Vi Lyles saying she’s willing to make them pay even more?

And then there’s the 2020 Republican Convention.  You can see where I going with this.  What would that cost taxpayers?  A Charlotte Observer piece four years after the Democratic Convention struggled to identify any very significant positive return for the city from hosting that event.  Does Charlotte really want to do this again with the Republicans?

The other two items on her list – connecting with businesses and recovering from Amazon are potentially valuable –  but only if she takes the right approach.  Meeting with business leaders and listening to what they need is important, but so is protecting taxpayers.  Mayor Lyles should make it clear that she’s not just going to hand out taxpayer money to anyone who asks, but should rather explore with those business leaders the ways that government can get out of their way, by easing regulations and improving the tax climate, for example.  Similarly, with Amazon, the lesson isn’t that we need to give bigger incentives, but that we should make Charlotte such an outstanding place to do business that Amazon or anyone else is begging us to come here.