Disturbing developments in the special session of the Missouri Legislature that is underway in Jefferson City point to matters that require urgent attention if this state and region are to avoid slipping further behind peer regions and states in the U.S. in this age of a competitive global economy.
Most immediately, leadership in the Missouri House of Representatives simply must restore to the economic development bill the $300 million in tax incentives for eligible facilities – eligible over a 15-year period – designed to encourage private capital investment in building St. Louis out as a significant two-way freight cargo hub. Very late on Monday, these credits were stripped from the bill in the Missouri Senate, leaving only the $60 million for freight forwarders that offers no long-term prospects for rejuvenating the badly-lagging airport in the state’s primary economic hub, the St. Louis region. Other peer regions, such as Cincinatti, are poised to implement similar long-term incentives to attract new cargo hub investment.
Speaker of the House Steve Tilley has impressed many Democrats with being a straight shooter, and we take him at his word when he says he wants what is best for St. Louis. The commendable leadership Tilley has shown in steering local control legislation would pale in importance beside his taking a stand, here and now, in insisting that the Show Me State show the world that it is indeed an active, forward-thinking participant in global trade.
Also, we suggest that Governor Jay Nixon reconsider judgments that have guided his involvement in bringing Aerotropolis to fruition. He has never taken seriously the job-creating boost these incentives would provide. He has acted as if the Quality Jobs legislation can do what Aerotropolis purports to do in the realm of job creation, which it can not do, while also pushing his own job-creation strategies in the field of technology, which in fact can be handled by existing economic tools.
Nixon’s mistake has been to let politics be his guide in this policy process. He cast his lot with a St. Louis developer who is a direct rival of Paul McKee Jr., who (along with attorney Steven Stone) has led the years-long effort to establish a Midwest China Hub and encourage private capital investment through these triggered tax incentives. Nixon’s key advisor on this bill has been determined to exclude McKee’s projects from any benefits of the bill, even though everyone is working within parameters developed by McKee and Stone. Nixon seems to have bought the line that Aerotropolis is a bail-out of McKee, an argument we might expect for well-intentioned but naive community activists to accept. Nevertheless, we suggest that the top elected official in the state look beyond any narrow-minded position and reconsider what initiatives hold the highest potential long-term benefit for the state and its badly under-performing economic engine.
As for McKee and Stone, it is time that they consider cutting bait on Peter Kinder, who is not likely to be an electable statewide candidate in Missouri in 2012. Nixon listens to the worst people whisper about McKee and Stone because of their loyalty to his presumed Republican rival. Nixon holds grudges with the best of them, but perhaps it is not too late for McKee and Stone to candidly reassess the electability of their candidate and quietly but firmly suggest to Nixon that they will not oppose him in 2012.
That leaves us with a suggestion for Peter Kinder. He can be effective and impactful without being governor; in fact, he can be effective and impactful without being a candidate at all. Public disclosures about his personal life have damaged him as a Republican, and his repulsive flirtations with the far-right tea party contingent have made him anathema even to sympathetic Democrats. However, Kinder has a record that demonstrates that he loves St. Louis and knows how to steer risky legislation in Jefferson City. It is time for him to consider taking his name off the campaign sign and moving behind the scenes, where he has much good work to do for this city and state that he loves.