by Michael R. Allen
The last time that I drove back from Jefferson City on Highway 94, I snapped this photograph of a historic store building in Tebbetts, Missouri. Who wants to be that this building will still be standing in ten years if Missouri greatly caps the state historic rehabilitation tax credit?
The real reason that Missouri senators should oppose the cap on historic tax credits proposed by Senator Brad Lager (R) is not because St. Louis’ “tall hogs” are hungry. The reason is because small towns across this state have only started figuring out how to use the tax credit to save their heritage and bring economic development to Main Street. In the past five years there has been a spate of tax credit activity outside of St. Louis and Kansas City. It’s not nearly as much as the activity in those big cities, but it will never grow if the credit is capped.
If the credit is capped, and the credit run through an appropriations process, issuance of the credit will become a political process. Currently, all one needs is a completed project and the right forms filled out — do the work, get the credit. A cap and appropriation will benefit the big developers who can afford to gain influence and work at getting credits full time. The Lager cap would end up benefiting those who are already good at using the credit (big cities) and stunt the growth of tax credit activity in small towns across Missouri.
I am a St. Louisan who knows this building in Tebbetts needs the historic tax credit just as much as the Mullanphy Emigrant Home, or houses in Benton Park. We can’t write off the rest of the state. Ironically, Lager’s proposal might do just that. Rural areas are always at a disadvantage when it comes to economic development. The historic tax credit is the antidote, and with time and training — would Lager support a state-funded tax credit training program? — the small towns will use this credit to remake themselves. All of the Lager changes work against small towns trying to survive, and play right into the hands of politically-connected developers.