News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 15, 2006

Pete Chalos: City’s leaders, citizens must be willing to support progress


We live in an extremely competitive society. From early childhood, we are taught the difference between winning and losing. In some families, more time is spent learning the difference between winning and losing than the difference between right and wrong.

The spirit of competition is in many ways a wonderful thing. It can teach us to strive to be our best, to set ambitious goals and to develop a strong work ethic. We learn that there is a price for achievement. We learn that success comes only after an investment of time and hard work.

The spirit of competition can also bring about negatives in a society. Some men and women lose a few times and learn to live in a spirit of defeat. Some learn to cheat. Some become bitter and jealous to the point that they undercut the goals and accomplishments of those around them. A spirit of rivalry can sometimes spur great achievement but other times destroy families, projects or the future of entire cities when people refuse to work together for the common good due to their personal agendas.

Instead of worrying about which new business or company is going to get a tax incentive, our community should be supporting the city in all of its efforts to develop economic districts that will create opportunities and spur growth. The more successful companies we have in town, the more jobs are created. More employed workers means more paying customers and more taxpaying citizens. That, in turn, benefits every existing business and the community as a whole. When one local company experiences success, the entire community benefits from that success.

Working against a project that could bring a lot of progress into our community as a whole simply because it might benefit the other political party, a political rival, a business rival or someone we see as being too successful already is counterproductive and abhorrent. Depriving our neighbors of jobs and depriving their children of winter coats and lunch money just so them Democrats or them Republicans won’t end up winning the next election is something that should keep a person awake at night writhing with guilt.

Our personal successes should never depend on undercutting the competition. They should instead depend on our excellence. If one doesn’t have what it takes to win based on his or her own ideas and skills then that person should admit defeat rather than pout and huff and attempt to tear down the accomplishments of his or her rival.

There are four existing TIF districts in Terre Haute. TIF (Tax Increment Finance) districts are a tool the city has used to spur economic growth on a number of occasions in the past. Sony, Bemis, Ampacet, AET, Tredegar, Jadcore, Ivy Hill and dozens of other companies have been encouraged to locate or expanded in Terre Haute because of TIF districts.

These companies pay new taxes on new development on a graduated scale in addition to their previous tax burden. Many of them provide business for existing Terre Haute companies who handle their supplies, packaging or shipping. The new employees hired by these new or expanded companies pay property tax, sales tax and income tax in Terre Haute. These new employees also become customers in Terre Haute.

Using a TIF district doesn’t lower the city’s income from current taxes. It temporarily lessens the increase from new taxes. Any projected revenue lost from companies that may or may not have chosen to locate or expand here under a full tax burden is gross and unadulterated speculation. Anyone who claims we would be losing money by offering an incentive must prove that as many companies would have located or expanded here without incentives in place. You can’t lose money from income you don’t have yet. We must entice companies to locate or expand in our community before we will increase our revenue at all. TIF districts are a powerful tool that enables cities to do just that. Part of something is better than all of nothing.

During my terms in office as mayor, Terre Haute earned a reputation as a city willing and able to work with industry to promote progress and growth. We worked hard to build that reputation. Keeping it should be a top priority for anyone involved in our local government today.

The primary responsibility of our elected and appointed city officials is to pursue economic growth for this community. It shouldn’t matter whether or not that progress benefits our personal, political or business rivals. It shouldn’t matter if a few of our more wealthy citizens make money in the process.

What should matter is that our community as a whole benefits from it. More jobs, better salaries, more opportunities — that’s what matters.

Pete Chalos, a longtime teacher, coach and public servant in Vigo County, was mayor of Terre Haute for 16 years. Send e-mail to pchalos@netscape.com.