Editorials

Opaque law shouldn’t be written to benefit one company, even if it’s Burns & McDonnell

Burns & McDonnell plans $42 million office expansion to accommodate growth

Burns & McDonnell is adding a $42 million 780-seat expansion to its headquarters campus at Wornall and Bannister road to house additional employees it expects to hire. The building will be completed in the summer of 2020.
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Burns & McDonnell is adding a $42 million 780-seat expansion to its headquarters campus at Wornall and Bannister road to house additional employees it expects to hire. The building will be completed in the summer of 2020.

Over the years, according to the Italian newspaper la Repubblica, that country’s legislature passed 18 different “ad personam” laws — tailor-made to fit and benefit just one man, the long-serving, permanently tanned and deeply corrupt then-prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

In 2005, election laws were recast to make his reelection more likely. In 2008, his corruption trial had to go on with only his co-defendant, thanks to another new piece of legislation that said he could not be prosecuted while in office.

“Technically,” one commentator said at the time, “Silvio Berlusconi could murder his long-suffering wife Veronica and get away with it because of this immunity law.”

Overturned the next year, that law was also considered scandalous because it was passed in a record 25 days, just before a summer recess. “Only in Italy,” said an editorial in la Repubblica, “could such an anomaly be passed.”

Thank goodness our lawmakers would never write a provision with only one beneficiary, right? Or hustle it onto the books right before the end of a session.

Except they just did exactly this in Jefferson City, expanding a tax credit that could cost the state more than $300 million over the next 15 years exclusively for Kansas City’s Burns & McDonnell. Oh, and they did so with virtually no discussion.

If this is as above-board as the company that shall not be named says, then why the opacity?

The original tax break, on the books since the 1990s, allows the firm’s physical property in Missouri to be claimed as a capital investment.

Their expanded credit will apply not just to buildings, equipment and furniture but also their investment in cloud computing. Other companies use the cloud, too, of course; where’s the fairness in the special accommodation?

Benefits offered to other Missouri companies under the same tax credit were phased out in 2005. To be eligible, a firm must be an architectural, engineering or accounting businesses headquartered in Missouri for more than 50 years with at least 500 employees and a $20 million investment in the state. In other words, just Burns & McDonnell.

The Kansas City-area lawmakers from both parties who pushed for this act of corporate welfare reasoned that if General Motors was getting $50 million in tax credits for its Wentzville plant, well then the major employer around here should get some goodies, too.

But GM’s tax credits were extensively debated and filibustered for 27 hours before passing. The tax credit extension to Burns & McDonnell, on the other hand, was debated for all of eight minutes, in a discussion in which the company’s name was mentioned just once, by a lawmaker who questioned the wisdom of the move.

Both on process and substance, we’re tempted to agree with GOP freshman state Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin from Shelbina, who we’re guessing doesn’t often quote Bernie Sanders.

“It’s rigged,” she said of the tax credits. “They can afford to send people here to be here every single day and go around and meet different senators and figure out who’s the most likely to go along with them and write them a deal that’s a sweetheart deal that lands on the back of the middle-class taxpayer. We are supposed to think that’s a good deal? It’s a good deal for them.”

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