Local officials uncertain about economic development plan because bill has yet to be written

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Local officials say they need more details before they can fully support an economic development deal announced last week by Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, and Rep. Steve Tilley, R-Perryville.

A major economic development bill died in May on the last day of the legislative session, when the Senate and the House couldn't come to an agreement on tax credit reform.

Mayer and Tilley recently traveled the state announcing House and Senate members have reached a consensus on a proposal that would create jobs programs and revamp tax credits saving more than $1.5 billion annually.

The plan is expected to be discussed during a special legislative session in September.

The tax credit package put forth from Mayer and Tilley includes:

* $360 million over 16 years in Aerotropolis tax credits for warehouse facilities and airlines to create an international cargo hub at Lambert Airport in St. Louis.

* The Missouri Science and Innovation Reinvestment Act, which would dedicate a portion of state income tax from new jobs at science and technology companies into a fund to help startups.

* Tax breaks for data centers, which house large computer banks.

* Caps on historic preservation tax credits and low-income housing tax credits. It also bans the practice of "stacking" both low-income and historic preservation tax credits on the same project.

* A provision that would make renters ineligible to receive the senior citizen property tax credit.

However, the proposals have not yet been put into the form of a bill for senators and representatives to review.

"You can't go out and announce a deal that doesn't exist, that hasn't been reduced to writing and that people don't even know what's in it," said Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau. "This stuff matters. We're talking about hundreds of millions, billions of dollars here."

Crowell said as soon as he heard there was a deal reached, he called and asked to see a copy of the legislation. He was told it hasn't been drafted yet.

Rep. Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston, also got the same response when she asked for more details about the proposal.

"In general, I support it, but I have not seen this proposal," she said. "I would very much like to review everything in writing."

When asked about the text of the legislation, Rep. Tilley referred The Southeast Missourian to Rep. John Diehl's office to obtain a copy, but a spokeswoman for Diehl said the bill was still being drafted would be filed within the next month.

From what he's seen of the summary released by Mayer and Tilley, Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce executive director John Mehner said it includes many of the proposals economic developers wanted to see passed during the regular legislative session.

"I have not seen a bill. Until there is something in front of us to look at, we don't know where we stand on the final product," Mehner said.

One proposal from the spring that's not included is a program called Compete Missouri that would cut red tape for businesses and provide seed money for companies looking to locate here. Gov. Jay Nixon said last week he wants to see the Compete Missouri plan included in legislation addressed during a special session.

Brandom, who serves on the House's economic development committee, said Cape Girardeau and Sikeston have lost projects to other states that offered that kind of incentive.

She said it was a "major disappointment" that the session ended without passing an economic development bill.

"The most important thing we want to do is create jobs," she said.

The Missouri Science and Innovation Reinvestment Act could benefit Southeast Missouri by providing an ongoing funding source for high-tech and scientific research companies, Mehner said. It's a good tie-in with the work being done at the Southeast Missouri State University Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, he said.

Brandom said she also support that program, which is modeled after a similar successful effort in Kansas.

"Right now, we're losing jobs to Kansas," she said.

Mehner said the incentives for data centers to locate in Missouri, while producing large initial investments, aren't likely to produce many jobs. Mehner and Brandom said that conceptually the development of an international cargo hub in St. Louis could benefit Southeast Missouri farmers. It would depend on how the bill is written.

Tilley said while the cargo hub would bring in planes filled with imports, the returning flights will open new markets for Missouri agricultural exports, specifically beef.

"It will help the job market in St. Louis and our neck of the woods as well," Tilley said, noting that many people in Perryville, Farmington and Cape Girardeau County drive to work in the St. Louis area. The increased tax revenue from about 20,000 jobs created by the Aerotropolis project would also provide more money for schools and transportation statewide, he said.

"Things that make St. Louis thrive spill over to help the rest of Missouri," Brandom said.

But Crowell called Aerotropolis a "boondoggle for St. Louis" and said it will not help Southeast Missouri cattle producers because China has a ban on imported beef.

"We're not stupid down here," Crowell said. "We can see when politicians who want to take St. Louis money speak down to their constituents."

Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, said she isn't sold on the Aerotropolis yet either.

"Most of it I like," she said of Mayer and Tilley's economic development proposal. "The Aerotropolis I still need to do more research on to see all the ins and outs."

Rep. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, who is a member of the House's economic development committee, did not respond to a request for comment.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

Jefferson City, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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