Critics of excessive public tax breaks for private companies in Kansas City and elsewhere in Missouri may have found a new champion in Gov.-elect Eric Greitens. That’s a good thing.
Greitens sent a chill through Missouri’s development world Monday with his harsh assessment of a plan to provide public incentives for a new Major League Soccer stadium in downtown St. Louis.
“This project is nothing more than welfare for millionaires,” Greitens said. “Right now, because of reckless spending by career politicians, we can’t even afford the core functions of government, let alone spend millions on soccer stadiums.”
The state board that had been poised to award the incentives suddenly retreated. Backers of the soccer stadium say they will talk to Greitens, who said he wants private sector money to fund the stadium. (Side note: The MLS facility for Sporting KC in Kansas City, Kan., was built with a huge helping of taxpayer dollars.)
Pushing back against requests for large public incentives for private projects is a great idea. But it’s one that Kansas City officials too often have resisted while doling out tax increment financing deals, property tax breaks and other public goodies to businesses the last 25 years.
Making matters worse, the Missouri General Assembly has never had the spine to battle the cities and development lawyers to dramatically improve the giveaway programs in favor of taxpayers.
That reluctance has upset officials with school districts, counties, libraries and other taxing entities in the Kansas City area, including Kansas City Public Schools, the Raytown School District, the Kansas City Public Library and Jackson County.
These entities have had tens of millions of dollars in future tax revenues diverted to private developers because of TIF plans or other taxpayer giveaways worked out by the mayor and City Council members in Kansas City.
Supporters of these deals point out that they have helped lure Cerner to south Kansas City and pumped new life into downtown, for instance.
However, most of these and other deals also have benefited from too-loose state rules that allow businesses to more easily qualify for the tax breaks, which sometimes reach excessive amounts.
It’s big news when public anger quashes a project, such as the BNIM headquarters plan in the Crossroads Arts District. But far more often, the development lawyers get most of what they want for their clients.
Now, Greitens is signaling he may provide firmer leadership in the governor’s office to rein in these programs. That could help school districts, libraries and other entities pass new bills in the General Assembly to ratchet down corporate welfare in Missouri.