Yael T. Abouhalkah

Mayor Sly James learns a lesson: Corporate tax breaks can hurt the poor

Like most politicians, Kansas City Mayor Sly James has been willing to support corporate tax breaks that lower the tax rates for powerful companies but essentially increase the tax burden on others who can’t sweet-talk City Hall.

So it wasn’t surprising to see James back the Boeing deal a few weeks ago — the Missouri General Assembly’s attempt to throw money at the aerospace company so it would bring a few jobs to the state.

But look how this deal may have backfired on James and, more importantly, the city of Kansas City.


James is upset that the state handouts

could siphon money from three low-income housing projects in Kansas City. One is an expansion of the St. Michael’s Veterans Center for homeless vets.

In a

lengthy blog post

that essentially seems to say the mayor got fooled by Gov. Jay Nixon and state legislators, James notes at one point:

“When I agreed to support the St. Louis effort, there was no discussion or consultation about using or bartering Low Income Housing Tax Credits to finance the Boeing deal.”

Pardon me, but an elected official being surprised that tax breaks can hurt something else in the community isn’t exactly a good look for the mayor.

Indeed, as he and others know all too well, the city has passed numerous public subsidies in the past that have sucked money away from school districts, libraries, counties and other taxing jurisdictions.

Yes, in many cases the mayor could argue, the city is taking this future income from the taxing jurisdictions with their full knowledge. After all, that’s how the state law is written (unfortunately): The city decides to give tax breaks and others have to live with the consequences.

In the Boeing deal, James is arguing he didn’t know that the state’s giveaway program might affect low-income housing programs that he cares about.

So why didn’t the mayor ask that valid question before giving his support to the Boeing project? Indeed, why didn’t the Kansas city lobbyists, legislators and all others looking out for the best interests of the city ask that kind of question during the Boeing debate?