Guest Commentary

Laura Kelly: Reaching across the aisle to end the Kansas-Missouri border war

I was honored to be part of history Tuesday at the grand Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas.

With hundreds of Kansans and Missourians in attendance — and countless others following along on Facebook Live and other social media — I was honored to sit alongside Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and sign a truce ending the longstanding economic border war between our states.

Our agreement calls for halting the use of tax incentives to lure companies across the border without creating new jobs.

In the past decade, folks in Kansas and Missouri had to watch and wonder why economic development forces in each state spent huge sums — together, some $330 million — to pull businesses a few miles across the border, and only to create an illusion of success with practically no economic gain.

Nationwide, people who took notice ridiculed the battle — and for good reason.

As for the Kansas side, there were plenty of economic missteps. The Brownback-Colyer administration’s lack of interest in ending the border war was emblematic of economic recklessness on their watch that extended well beyond a failed tax experiment.

The fiscal fallout was unprecedented. The process of rebuilding state operations — including the important work of fueling job growth — began the day I took office.

We’re moving forward. One good sign: Kansas was named the “Comeback State of 2019” in CNBC’s annual America’s Top States for Business rankings.

Commerce Secretary David Toland and his team are resurrecting Kansas’ economic development efforts, which included work with our friends in Missouri to end the border war and renewed emphasis on joint projects that promote the collective strength of the Kansas City metropolitan area.

Such collaboration recently saw the Kansas City region land hundreds of high-paying United States Department of Agriculture research jobs. Locations in 35 states had expressed interest, and the Kansas-Missouri bid won.

Kansas and Missouri will continue with separate efforts to offer incentives statewide. We all want to do our best to attract businesses and good jobs, but without foolish giveaways that bear no fruit.

During Tuesday’s ceremony, keynote speaker Amy Liu, vice president and director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, drove home the positive trajectory of the new bi-state pact.

After calling the Missouri-Kansas border war a “poster child of how not to create jobs,” Liu lauded the truce as a step toward the commonsense goal of making incentives “rare, targeted and transparent.” statewide.

In Kansas, we do indeed embrace the economic development strategy Liu recommended in putting emphasis on quality of life features that make communities more desirable places for workers. These strategies matter in all places, rural and metropolitan and in between.

For now, however, we can’t abandon incentives — not if we’re to remain competitive with other states using those tools to entice businesses and new jobs.

I see the power of our new and improved two-state partnership helping for years to come, from the continued growth of the Kansas City-centered animal health corridor through both states, to our pitch to bring the 2026 FIFA World Cup to Kansas City. Hopefully, there will be many more opportunities for our states to partner between now and then.

When Kansas and Missouri work together, we can accomplish a lot — and also set an example at a time of extreme partisanship.

As Don Hall, executive chairman for Hallmark Cards Inc., said during the ceremony: “It has taken political courage to end this wasteful and divisive practice.”

He was correct. On Tuesday in Memorial Hall, this Democrat from Kansas sat alongside a Republican from Missouri, and together we made a pledge to change course.

We agreed to abandon the broken, costly approach of luring jobs across the border for no economic gain. We agreed to work together for the good of people in both great states.

And we agreed to put common sense first.

That’s progress.

Laura Kelly is governor of Kansas.

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