Brian Pine: Bridge Builder or Shady Backroom Deal Maker?

As City Councilor Brian Pine makes his pitch to be Burlington’s next ‘Progressive’ mayor (and receives some one-sided press coverage as a ‘Bridge Builder‘), most of the public may not know that his personal image is drastically different from who he is behind the scenes. While he sells himself as being different from Democrats, his decade-long strategy of backroom deals with landlords, developers, and slumlords, shows that he cares more about placating those in power than organizing or supporting the working class. Bridge builders often build in public, but in private they show their true nature and allegiances.

As we have seen with city councilors like Joan Shannon, a common local strategy is to plan and organize with landlords privately. When those folks then speak at public comment, this ‘outspoken random support’ is then used as a way to justify their reactionary, and anti-working class votes. While Brian Pine may occasionally pivot with the political winds, if he is mayor we will see the same bullying, shady backroom deals, and nakedly political upper-class maneuvering that we have seen under Weinberger and the Burlington Democrats.

Brian Can’t Keep His Mall Support Story Straight

My experience and involvement in Burlington politics gives me insight into who Councilor Pine really is. My story starts in August 2016, when I received a call from Brian Pine about the mall redevelopment ballot items. I was chair of the Burlington Progressive Steering Committee at the time, and we had recently released all the reasons we did not support the mall redevelopment. At the time, Pine publicly said he was uncomfortable with the statement because he worried it would “have the effect of potentially alienating not only Progressives, but I think it would put the party at odds with the consensus of Burlington.”

At this point I had been trying to get Pine involved again in the party for months and he had refused, so I was surprised to receive a call out of the blue from him. In this call he yelled at me for not supporting the mall project. He blamed me for ‘ruining the party’ (I had been chair for maybe a year at that point) and put the mall redevelopment inter-party conflict at my feet. Afterwards he told other Party members that we had a great conversation and were friendly afterwards. That wasn’t true.

The truth is that Brian’s opinions on most things constantly change with the political winds; as a Progressive his ideology is neoliberalism with a twist. After yelling at me for not support the mall redevelopment, Pine tried to distance himself from his very public support of it, lying many times in the process.

…former city councilor Brian Pine actively encouraged local residents to pass two ballot items that clear the way for developer Don Sinex to build up to 14 stories and for the city to restore two streets and improve others using $21.8 million in tax increment financing.”

(Seven Days)

Brian actively supported the project in 2016 with no public qualms. He went on to say that ‘increasing the housing supply should help reduce real estate costs across the income spectrum‘, a classic neoliberal and Mayor Weinberger argument. He also took a video supporting the mall redevelopment for Mayor Weinberger’s developer-heavy PAC, the Partnership for Burlington’s Future.

In a Seven Days article from 2018 when he was running for council, Pine said he supported the mall redevelopment and ‘would have voted to boost the building height limits’.

The story keeps changing. In a Burlington Free Press article from August of this year, Pine said,

…that early on, from 2014 through 2016, Sinex and CityPlace forged a great “synergy” with the Burlington community, promising “rebirth” for the core of downtown. “Things were great,” Pine said. “If they had continued to focus on essentially delivering on the possibility that came from that synergy, leveraging lots of public and private resources to pull off this project, I think we’d be in a very different place.”

“Things have not gone at all according to plan,” he said. “Promises made were not kept. Trust that was built has been shattered. I’d say we are very skeptical of the ability to repair that relationship.”

Burlington Free Press

Then, just last week, Pine changed his story for a fourth time on a Reddit AMA. When pressed about his support for the mall redevelopment, he said he was not on City Council when the vote was taken, and that the property was likely headed for foreclosure and that’ something had to be done…he had reservations about the scale of the project and was not sure the developer could be trusted’.

Continue reading Brian Pine: Bridge Builder or Shady Backroom Deal Maker?

Tax Increment Financing (TIF) offers False and Flimsy Promises

The city of Burlington loves Tax Increment Financing (TIFs) – whether it be for the Moran Plant, waterfront improvements, the mall redevelopment, or the nontransparent private marina process – even though TIFs are seriously flawed. TIFs are sold on flimsy and false promises – from helping low income communities to boosting the economy when it wouldn’t have been boosted otherwise. On top of this, TIFs in practice are undemocratic. Politicians will ask voters to approve a supposed done deal but they often amount to a blank check finalized behind closed doors by a select few. It’s time to end TIFs and invest public funds in low-income communities.

TIFs are districts where cities can ‘leverage’ private investment by borrowing on future property value increases. While there may be some benefits, those benefits are unproven and do not outweigh the many many downsides to TIFs.

The 6 problems with TIFs:

  1. Once you vote on the idea, you don’t get to choose the final product even if the final product is drastically different than the initial idea. See: private marina, mall redevelopment, City Hall Park.
  2. Since the goal line on TIF projects always changes, it’s impossible to hold elected officials responsible for failing to act on their words. For example, first the $20 million mall TIF would buy a couple streets and fix streets around the mall, but in the final weeks before the vote it included fixing an additional two streets to get voters to approve it.
  3. While TIF money may have originally been used to help struggling downtowns, it is now used in mainly wealthy downtowns to improve infrastructure for wealthy land owners. For example, the mall is owned by a multi-billion dollar investment company but supposedly wouldn’t build this project unless taxpayers gave them 9% of their funding costs for free. TIF money never seems to be used for programs to support those in poverty, like funding new low-income housing.
  4. TIFs hurts our public schools by taking desperately-needed millions out of the education fund for 20+ years, as TIFs money is split 75/25 education fund and general fund. The money used to improve our downtown never reaches Burlington’s low income children.
  5. TIFs raise rents and cost of living for everyone else by accelerating property values in urban areas past typical levels of inflation. They, like Downtown Improvement Districts, lead to accelerated gentrification.
  6. TIFs are sold as being integral to spurring new development, but are based on a false and unproven assumption that the development wouldn’t have occurred ‘but for’ TIF money. In fact, the ‘but for’ clause means ‘but for that specific design/development plan’. So we have no way of knowing if some level of development would have occurred regardless. Vermont State Auditor Doug Hoffer has made is clear that this ‘but for’ clause is impossible to prove or audit.

The reality is that MANY people, when they vote for TIF, they vote for a specific project without realizing they’re writing a blank check for politicians who may be more interested in making wealthy interests and donors happy over ensuring the community meets everybody’s needs.

In the end, TIF money gambles on the future with little oversight or proof of its effectiveness. It takes badly needed property tax revenue, money that our schools desperately need, and gives it to investors so that they can boost their profits and wealth for the next 20 years while taxpayers pick up the tab. It’s time to end TIFs and fund local government through taxes, and if necessary, bonds.