by Michael R. Allen
Yesterday, Missouri Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder convened a press conference on tax credits on Old Post Office Plaza in downtown St. Louis. (Coverage: St. Louis Business Journal, KWMU, St. Louis Globe-Democrat and St. Louis Beacon.) The location was ironic given that Old Post Office developer Steve Stogel has close ties to Governor Jay Nixon.
The scene was set as if this were an official response to Governor Nixon’s tax credit proposal, with Kinder citing statistics between statements of strong support for the state’s redevelopment incentives, especially the historic rehabilitation tax credit. Of course, the spate of press conferences by Nixon and Kinder are more prelude to the 2012 governor’s race than official actions. Both are shoring up bases, with a twist: Democrat Nixon is pandering to the perceived “Missourah” base that abhors the state’s urban areas, and Kinder is aiming to gain support in the urban areas that helped propel Nixon into the governor’s mansion.
Kinder was surrounded by St. Louis Democrats, including aldermanic President Lewis Reed, Aldermen Antonio French (D-21st) and Jeffrey Boyd (D-22nd), State Representative Tishaura Jones (D-63rd) and former Carnahan adminstration Director of Revenue Janette Lohman. Also on hand were Reverend Ken McKoy, developers Paul J. McKee, Jr. and Peter George, Landmarks Association of St. Louis Executive Director Jeff Mansell, RHCDA President Stephen Acree, Association of General Contractors of America President Leonard P. Toenjes and others. These people have different reasons for supporting the historic rehabilitation tax credit, but most talked about the importance of using the credits in distressed neighborhoods.
Kinder’s words resonated in St. Louis. The press has picked up on his jab about Blagojevich-style politics, but he mostly stuck to reasons why tax credit programs build the state economy. Kinder stated emphatically that Missouri should be proud of how much money it spends on historic preservation. Missouri leads all states in historic preservation-related development due to the tax credit. That’s not a bad thing, Kinder said.
Kinder questioned Nixon’s recent attempt to tie tax credit expenditures to loss of revenue for public education. According to Kinder, “he leaves out one simple part of the equation in that tax credits create jobs and without jobs there will be no place for our educated workforce to earn a living.” Missouri has indeed long suffered from lack of economic opportunity, and the historic rehabilitation tax credit has spurred job creation for skilled labor. Of course, public education should not be underfunded to spur job creation.
Kinder pointed out that leading the country in one type of development has created jobs that Missouri otherwise may not have had. “Nixon’s plan to cut tax credits is a boon to states like Kansas and Tennessee, which are courting our businesses away and taking their hundreds of millions of investment and jobs with them,” Kinder said.
Aldermen French and Boyd talked about the difference that the historic tax credit could make in north St. Louis, where use has not been as widespread as in other areas. Boyd talked about the upcoming renovation of Arlington School, which would not have happened without credits. French talked about plans to get most of his ward eligible for use of the credits. Each acknowledged that the credits alone are not the answer, but essential parts of larger strategies.
Surprisingly, Kinder was candid about his support for last year’s cap on the historic tax credit, which many who stood behind him opposed. Kinder stated that he might support a lower cap, but not “gutting” the program as proposed by the Nixon administration. While Kinder avoided any specific ideas for changes — not a good thing to do, I guess, with developers standing behind him — he did suggest that some changes have to happen. The end of the press conference was a sober reminder that, while there is wide recognition of the benefits of the Missouri rehabilitation tax credit, supporters have to face Missouri’s budget reality. After all, Governor Nixon is as right about that point as he is wrong about the solution.