Special Session? - Part I

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following guest column originally appeared on State Sen. Jason's Crowell's blog at semissourian.com.

Over the last few weeks, there has been a lot of discussion from Jefferson City politicians suggesting the General Assembly will be called back into a special legislative session focused on "economic development." In fact, Senate and House leadership have spent much of July in a backroom in St. Louis cutting a deal that is short on economic development, short on tax credit reform but long on government handouts to campaign donors and special interests in the name of "economic development" and "job growth." The General Assembly usually meets January through May, but for extraordinary reasons, the Governor or General Assembly can call itself into session to pass what it deems as legislation that cannot wait until January.

Senate and House leadership have recently announced a deal they cut behind closed doors in a nontransparent inside job, which is now being pushed to be passed in a special session. This backroom deal must not be allowed to pass. But let me be clear, there is a path to do right by the Missouri taxpayer but it will take you demanding that Jefferson City politicians put you first instead of their fat cat campaign donors. It is my hope that together we are successful.

In this series we will discuss where we are as to a possible special session, what is wrong with leaderships' backroom deal, and what special interest provisions must be eliminated and how we move forward with an economic development bill that puts Missouri first, not connected special interests and lobbyists. There are several issues at play; Aerotropolis tax credits for St. Louis Lambert Airport, historic preservation tax credits, low-income housing tax credits, Brownfield tax credits, land assemblage tax credits and Circuit Breaker Property Tax Relief tax credits for owners and renters of real property. We will discuss all of these issues and the changes that must be made to leaderships' backroom deal. You will probably learn more than you want to know, but it is vital that you know what is going on with your hard earned tax dollars in Jefferson City.

The first area is Aerotropolis. Aerotropolis is an idea conceived by Greg Lindsey in his book "Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next" and is defined as an "international trade zone that uses multiple modes of transportation to move goods." In order to create this trade zone, a large amount of warehouse space is needed to store products and this is where the state is being asked to spend your tax dollars. Supporters of Aerotropolis in St. Louis claim that in order to get investors to build this warehouse space and then to attract air carriers to St. Louis, Missourians must give out $360 million in tax credits to developers and the airport.

Aerotropolis though, as written in leaderships' bill, is not about economic growth but is a handout to rich campaign contributors. Requirements, such as for a developer to qualify for Aerotropolis tax credits, warehouses must be built on 100 contiguous acres of land or in specially designated areas mean that only a select few developers who donate massive amounts to politicians, could qualify for these tax credits. If that wasn't enough, according to real estate company CB Richard Ellis, there is more than 18 million square feet of vacant warehouse space already developed in St. Louis and no need for new warehouse space. However, as currently written in leaderships' bill, 80 percent of Aerotropolis tax credits will go to new construction, rewarding the politically connected developers while hurting business owners trying to lease their existing space; this must be changed. The leaderships' bill even gives the mayor of St. Louis and St. Louis county executive the power to be the gatekeeper to these state tax credits. The mayor of St. Louis and the executive of St. Louis County must not be allowed to spend state dollars unilaterally without any accountability or oversight. Finally, the leaderships' bill is not tied to an increase in international trade. Strong clawbacks and taxpayer protections must be included in order to ensure that Aerotropolis tax credits do not become a taxpayer funded "Air Bridge to Nowhere" boondoggle.

As you know, I have concerns with awarding any new tax credits while cutting education budgets in Missouri. As conceived by Senate and House leadership, Aerotropolis tax credits are a special interest giveaway to fat cat campaign donors. But, if Aerotropolis is going to be about true economic development, we must make the changes we've discussed. And if Senate and House leadership fight us and fight the elimination of these special interest provisions, then they must be defeated as well.

Now is the time for government to live within its means, not spend money it does not have by giving away tax credits not tied to performance. Together we have an opportunity to do right by the Missouri taxpayer, but it will take you, the bosses of the politicians, to demand the right legislation is passed, if there is a special session. This can be done by taking back our state government and holding Senate and House leadership accountable; shining a bright light on the problems with their backroom deal and watching them scatter like cockroaches from their current position. Again, I need your help holding these politicians accountable. They are counting on your silence. In the coming weeks we will examine further the issues and changes needed for a taxpayer first special session.

Jason Crowell is a state senator representing Southeast Missouri's 27th Senate District.

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