We’re all aware of the NIMBY phenomenon–“Not In My Backyard”–but I’ve begun noticing a new one, NIICHI or “Not If I Can’t Have It”.

A small but vocal group of business and property owners recently came together in our city to oppose Tax Increment Financing, a new development incentive designed to encourage more downtown infill projects. TIFs are designed to keep the current tax revenue stream steady while using future taxes that will be created from the project to help fund the project. However, these opponents characterized the program a literally taking money away from the schools or the city and giving it to property owners–to the point where the public began to think that the developer was being handed a large check.

Their primary argument, though, was that they didn’t have any help when they started their business, so why should someone else get help. Setting aside the fact these are public programs to which any qualified person can apply, it demonstrated a strong emotional undercurrent–a belief that there are limited resources and helping one person necessarily means another will be harmed. (Interestingly, the two projects under consideration were a hotel and an apartment building–both guaranteed to bring new customers into their businesses. In other words, two projects designed to increase the size of the pie.)

Part of this stems from what’s happening at the national level. With the downturn in the economy, both the past and the present administration have supported wide-ranging stimulus packages in an attempt to get it back on track. Government stimulus means that future tax dollars are being used to help out certain groups of people today. For someone struggling to support their own family and manage their debt, this is easily seen as a program designed to take money out of their pocket and give it to someone else.

This may be a passing phenomenon–people feeling the pinch of a tight economy–but it’s something to watch for. How can we do a better job of explaining a development incentive as something that creates a bigger pie? Better yet, how do we do a better job of designing incentives so that everyone feels the benefit?