Missouri Public Policy

What Is Governor Nixon Thinking?

by Michael R. Allen

One has to wonder what is the point of Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (Democrat)’s tax credit reform proposal and why he is going to such great lengths to push it. The House Republican leadership is stonewalling any changes to tax credits this year, so even if Nixon could get reform passed in the Senate it will never make it to his desk. That fact did not stop Nixon from showboating at a press conference yesterday, where he pitched his tax credit proposal flanked by 75 educators whose presence underscored his point that a dollar toward tax credits is a dollar taken from education.

This is a talking point now being used in debate in the General Assembly by Senator Brad Lager (R-Savannah) and his conservative allies, whose commitment to public education has never been so strongly stated. Strange that Lager, Nixon and company have aimed their strongest attack at the historic tax credit, one of the few tax credits in Missouri that does not require expensive consultants and lawyers to understand and use. The low income housing tax credit is second on the list, although its appropriation system is continually politicized along the lines that Nixon is proposing for all tax credits in the state.

I keep wondering if this Jay Nixon is the same man that I met at a fundraiser hosted by Steven Fitzpatrick Smith back in 2008. That Nixon talked a lot about the importance of education, too, but he also emphasized his commitment to the historic rehabilitation tax credit and urban development. Nixon proclaimed to understand that the historic rehab credit creates jobs. That night nearly two years ago, Nixon told a room of us that he was proud of his days living around Tower Grove Park and being a city resident.

Flash forward and now he’s aiming at the state’s only citizen’s tax credit, knowing he won’t hit, because taking aim wins alliances with people who wish that Missouri had no cities larger than Chillicothe. He’s doing this at the same time that Lt. Governor Peter Kinder (R) is building up his urban support to unseat Nixon. He’s doing this at the same time that House Speaker Ron Richard (R) is calling for independent evaluation of all tax credit programs before making cuts — a sensible and needed study that could help Missouri get rid of the bad programs. What could Jay Nixon possibly be thinking? Why let Republicans who know very well how to use the opportunity sound urban-minded and reasonable to St. Louis voters?

I’d like Governor Nixon to embrace real tax credit reform, not a gubernatorial power grab that makes tax credits the sole province of the politically connected who can wheedle part of the annual appropriation. All Nixon needs to do is look at the programs and propose getting rid of the ones that aren’t creating jobs and spurring revenue returns. He needs to drop his current reform proposal fast. After all, every dollar spent in campaign contributions is a dollar not spent on creating jobs or improving neighborhoods. You don’t have to be a teacher to do that math.

3 replies on “What Is Governor Nixon Thinking?”

The lesson should be something like: Institutional incentives matter.

He is just responding to the options available to him. Frankly Historic Tax Credits get lumped into all the other tax credits and they are hard to defend, even if they work. Hard to defend because you have to do economic analyses to show their impact. That kind of evidence is not so convincing.

My reading of the situation is that he benefits from a rural/county Republican electoral strategy more than an urban Democratic strategy. Missouri's demography is more suited to this kind of politics. It is why you really cannot distinguish between a Republican and Democrat in this state. That is just one more factor working against the urban environment in St. Louis.

I think a misplaced sense of fear appears to be his primary motivator. Fear of so-called tea partiers, etc. He seems to be behaving much like Pres. Obama, giving away the store before he even begins negotiating with the opposition. Which is no way to defeat your enemies, and a piss-poor way to retain your friends. He has certainly lost my vote. As has Mr. Obama. Niether one of them has provided what could be called leadership. Leadership takes courage, building on the strength of your convictions.

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