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John Kane's preposterous parking deck proposal

Tax cuts for Raleigh's rich?

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If the Realtors aren't using this domain name anymore, may I please have the rights to www.itsabadidea.org for Raleigh developer John Kane's latest attempt to gull us into paying for his parking decks? Or is "gull" too strong a word? Kane's not trying to trick us out of $75 million, exactly. He's more like the folks who brought us sub-prime lending: Of course it makes sense to sell houses to people who can't afford them with no money down and an "adjustable" mortgage—how can you lose?

Actually, Kane's pitch is akin to the folks who cut taxes for the rich so the rest of us would be better off. Kane would like a tax cut on his North Hills East development so the rest of us Raleigh taxpayers, though seemingly stuck with a $75 million bill—or is it $140 million?—would be better off.

I don't know John Kane. I'm told he's a nice guy. And he's done a good job of redeveloping, without subsidies, the old North Hills Mall. Nor is this issue of the parking decks about what he can do with North Hills East; Raleigh City Council has already given him the green light for most anything he wants over there, except that the buildings can't be higher than 35 stories.

But if there's one issue in the Raleigh elections that says it all about the candidates and where they stand on development issues, it's Kane's parking decks. Kane wants to borrow $75 million for parking decks that he'll own, not the city; and he wants the taxpayers to pay off his debt by cutting taxes on North Hills East by about $140 million (his figure) over the period of his loans.

The politics of the Kane giveaway are as follows:

MAYOR CHARLES MEEKER, running unopposed for a fourth term in the Oct. 9 election, adamantly opposes it. With him are three Democrats: at-large incumbent councilman RUSS STEPHENSON, unopposed District D candidate THOMAS CROWDER and JAMES WEST, also running unopposed in District C.

Stephenson opposes the giveaway, he told me. He's raised $30,700 for this election from contributions by a few developers and a lot more neighborhood types (full disclosure: including my wife).

I posed the same question about paying for Kane's parking decks to the other leading contenders for the two pivotal at-large seats: Democrats MARY-ANN BALDWIN, PAUL ANDERSON and HELEN TART. They're undecided.

Kane has four current councilmembers on his side: Republicans PHILIP ISLEY (District E) and TOMMY CRAVEN (District A) and Democrats JOYCE KEKAS (at-large) and JESSIE TALIAFERRO (District B), who has received $1,000 in campaign contributions from Kane.

However, Craven has competition from independent candidate and neighborhood leader NANCY MCFARLANE.

Isley's running unopposed; Kekas, an at-large member, isn't running.

As for Taliaferro, she faces a stiff challenge from Republican ANGEL MENENDEZ as well as fellow Democrat RODGER KOOPMAN.

You'll recall that Koopman ran a smart-growth campaign against Republican Paul Coble for county commissioner last year and fell just short. Koopman has a lot of neighborhood-type backers, including his campaign manager Esther Hall, who is Congressman Brad Miller's spouse.

Coble, in case you missed it, voted for the Kane giveaway when the Wake County Commissioners approved it recently and ripped Meeker in the bargain. (Kane's tax subsidy also requires county approval.)

Kane's best scenario to win over council? Stephenson loses. Next best: Flip West, the shakiest one of Meeker's Four.

Well, it's early in the campaign. And Kane's got the old razzle-dazzle going with his new talk about "synthetic TIFs"—a legally questionable form of "tax-increment financing" using private instead of public bonds.

But unlike so many other development questions in Raleigh in which the devil is in the details, when you clear the smoke away from the parking deck issue, it's neither complicated and nor a close call. If Kane gets his way, what parking deck in Raleigh will go unsubsidized?

For candidates who say—as Baldwin and Anderson do—that they'll advocate for the city's best interests and refuse to be shills for the developers, there couldn't be an easier chance to prove it: Just pledge, if elected, to say no to a Kane giveaway.

Correction (August 27, 2007): Raleigh City Council District A candidate Nancy McFarlane was mistakenly identified as a Democrat; she is registered as an independent.

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