Program audit

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Perhaps the biggest issue on the minds of Americans right now is jobs. And in Missouri this is no different.

One effort to stimulate Missouri's job growth in recent years has been the state's Quality Jobs program. Supported by members of both parties, the program -- administered by the Department of Economic Development -- offers tax breaks to businesses that create or retain a minimum number of jobs. Qualifying businesses must also pay average wages and cover half of the employees' health insurance premiums.

Last week Auditor Tom Schweich gave the department a "poor" rating for its administration of the program. The audit contended that the estimated number of jobs for approved projects was overstated by the department, as was the amount of money projected that businesses would invest in facilities and equipment.

Since the program was signed into law in 2005, the department approved projects through 2011 that would, at an estimate, create 45,646 jobs. This estimate was later reduced 26,686. But according to the audit, only 7,176 jobs were created through Dec. 31 -- though in the current time frame more jobs may still be created.

The audit also notes that for the applications approved through the end of last year, $4.93 billion was projected to be spent in facilities and equipment. But as of February actual expenditures only totaled $1.1 billion.

The department maintains the state still benefits from the program. Schweich doesn't deny that. However, he said in an interview with The Associated Press that the projections were "overly optimistic" and the monitoring was "woefully inadequate."

The good news is that tax breaks are issued only for jobs created, not projections. Still, Schweich makes a valid point that the department could do a better job in its projections and verification process.

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