The CEOs of two large companies that have recently moved across the border one from Kansas City to Johnson County and one from Johnson County to south Kansas City happen to be friends of mine.
By STEVE ROSE
Special to The Star
So, I asked each of them to speak anonymously on what motivated them to make their move. What factors came into play?
And both told me the same thing. Honestly, each said, it was the tax incentives. They just could not turn down millions of dollars no, tens of millions of dollars to make the short move across the state line.
I have been a defender of the tax incentives, particularly those offered by Kansas, because I believed they were but one factor out of many that caused companies to move to Johnson County. Quality of life, I have been told by Johnson County economic development experts, plays a more important part in the decision than tax incentives.
Now, Im not so sure.
Or maybe I am sure. My attitude has evolved as more data have shed light on the realities of the Border War. That information has come from independent studies led by Bill Hall, president of the Hall Family Foundation.
The bottom line: This game of musical chairs is killing state treasuries with little to show for it.
I have stubbornly been in denial because I am so firmly aligned with Johnson County interests.
I do believe Johnson County leaders who staunchly defend the tax giveaways and say they are not actively soliciting Kansas City companies to move to Johnson County.
I believe them when they say the lookers knock on their doors and they are simply responding, ultimately with the best deal in their arsenal.
I believe them when they say there are times, although perhaps somewhat rare, when companies might have moved to another metropolitan area, but our tax incentives brought them to Johnson County.
The Border War comes to them. They do not go looking for a war.
The problem is, the leaders of Johnson County or Wyandotte County are not who are creating the lavish incentives, and, thus, the Border War.
It is primarily the state of Kansas. And in particular, it is the program called PEAK Promoting Employment Across Kansas that has cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in tax incentives, as the state actively pursues this Border War.
Yes, Missouri has its own lavish tax giveaway program, Missouri Quality Jobs, which is also very expensive. They, too, are culprits in this war, though to a lesser extent.
With the revelations of Halls extensive, scientific data, one must conclude that the giveaways are costing the states literally hundreds of thousands of dollars per job.
Kansas has spent a fortune to lure about 3,100 jobs from Missouri, and with moving across the state line both ways, Kansas has netted only 595 new jobs.
That makes these Border War tax incentives masochistic. Each state is shooting itself in the foot.
Theyre paying to rob jobs from each other and end up in virtually the same position as when they started.
The specific question is, should Kansas be in the incentive business when it comes to luring companies across our state line?
Not that long ago, my answer was yes. I have argued in debates and written columns defending the practice.
For me, this is a seismic shift. The data are just too overwhelming to maintain my position.
There needs to be a truce in this Border War, and the leadership for such a truce needs to come from Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. It is assumed Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon would go along with any truce emanating from Kansas.
Like all wars, it is difficult to put down arms and wave the white flag, particularly if the one seeking peace has had a slight advantage. It will require recognition that this war has been futile. And it will take great courage to declare the Border War over.
To reach Steve Rose, a Johnson County columnist, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.