Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon should take good advantage of two photo opportunities today.
The first is already on his schedule. At a groundbreaking in south Kansas City, Nixon will extoll the new jobs being created by expanding the world headquarters of the Burns & McDonnell engineering firm.
The second photo-op ought to follow minutes later. In it, Nixon would stand next to Burns & McDonnell CEO Greg Graves and sign a bill designed to end the area’s destructive economic border war. That would be a significant step in what eventually could be a big victory for local taxpayers.
Graves and 16 other local business leaders recently sent a strongly worded letter to Nixon urging him to support legislation to end the border war, pushed through the General Assembly by Kansas City Sen. Ryan Silvey.
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Essentially, it would bar municipalities in several Kansas City area counties in Missouri from using tax incentives to woo existing businesses from close-by counties in Kansas, as long as that state puts in place similar prohibitions.
If Nixon acts, all eyes will quickly turn to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. He has the authority to ban certain state subsidies for use in Johnson County and a few other area counties in that state.
It’s high time to stop awarding excessive taxpayer subsidies to businesses simply for hopping the state line and often creating few or no new jobs.
This internecine approach to development is one reason behind the recent decline in strength of the entire Kansas City area economy. “The highly visible competition between Kansas and Missouri for jobs and firms has distracted focus away from the core assets in greater Kansas City...,” said a report published by the Mid-America Regional Council and the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program.
So will a peace treaty arrive today, or sometime soon regarding the border war?
Seventeen years ago many local cities endorsed a similar effort, called the Metropolitan Alliance for Economic Cooperation. But savvy companies and economic development lawyers continued to play hardball with communities, threatening to leave them — or promising to head to others — for the right amount of public funds. The ineffective alliance lasted only a few years.
The border war has just grown more intense and costly since then. The 17 business leaders’ recent letter bemoaned the continued “job shuffle” stoked by businesses looking for giveaways.
It pointed out that the incentives drain millions of tax dollars that could go for public services, while not replacing them with new tax revenues in whichever state “wins” the competition.
If Nixon doesn’t act today, he has until mid-July to sign the border war bill. But there’s no good reason to wait.