by Michael R. Allen
In this time of Missouri state budget crunching, the state historic rehabilitation tax credits are again under fire. While the threat to cap, eliminate or modify the credits returns every year and is usually soundly defeated, this year is different. Missouri has hard choices to make about the state budget, and Governor Jay Nixon is under pressure from members of both parties to overcome a massive revenue shortfall.
An Associated Press article published February 12 details the renewed hostility toward the tax credits from Republican Senators Brad Lager, a perennial foe of the credits, and Jason Crowell. This week, Lager placed a $150 million cap on the program in a substitute version of economic development bill SB 45, but the substitute seems defeated after lobbying from developers and legislators who understand the benefits of the tax credit. The big threat now seems to be a counter-proposal to reduce the coverage of the credits from 25% of qualified costs to 20%, the percentage of federal historic rehab tax credit. That change would be disastrous to projects already underway that have not yet collected credits, and it is needless.
Of all of the state’s many tax credit programs, the historic rehab tax credit is one of the most successful and most popular. The best part about it is that its use is wide — from big developers to homeowners in north St. Louis to inn keepers in Augusta, the users are a diverse group. The other undeniable good is that the credit is a sure bet for continuing to create skilled, well-paid construction jobs in Missouri. Historic rehab work requires specialized labor that does not come cheaply, and the stimulus for such work in Missouri has not only kept many tradesmen employed but has created new jobs in fields like plastering, masonry and finish carpentry. Workers who were paid entry-level wages to hang drywall have gone on to work on tax credit-financed projects where they gain skills that land them solid pay. In this downturn, we can’t afford to let these skilled workers out of a job.
Meanwhile, the National Trust for Historic Preservation lauds the Missouri rehab tax credit as a model in stimulating small development projects and in creating skilled construction jobs. (The Trust’s page inexplicably features a photograph of the James Clemens, Jr. House in St. Louis in a line-up of otherwise rehabbed Missouri buildings.)
Keep up on the latest news in the Missouri historic rehab tax credit struggle at the Save the Historic Tax Credit website. Contact your legislators immediately and urge them to support the historic rehab tax credit the way it is now — working for Missouri!