• Jeff Fox: Cross-state jobs fight

  •  It’s fine when an interest group takes a national view of things and weighs in on a regional issue such as the Missouri-Kansas tussle for companies and jobs.

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  • It’s fine when an interest group takes a national view of things and weighs in on a regional issue such as the Missouri-Kansas tussle for companies and jobs.
    I just wish they’d buy a map.
    A group called Good Jobs First made a few waves the other day with a report, “The Job Creation Shell Game.”
    “Worse than zero-sum, this is a net loss game, with footloose companies shrinking the tax base necessary for the education and infrastructure investments that benefit all employers,” the report said.
    If Kansas City isn’t quite Exhibit A, it’s pretty high on the group’s list. Texas, New Jersey, Georgia and others get attention, too.
    The report pulls a line from a 2011 public letter from 17 Kansas City area business leaders: “State incentives are being used to lure businesses back and forth across the state line with no net economic gain to the community as a whole and a resulting erosion of the area’s tax base.”
    The report runs through some of the metro area’s well-known cases: Applebee’s got $12.5 million from Missouri to move its 390 headquarters jobs across the state line and it turned around and eliminated 47 of those jobs. AMC got incentives to jump over to Leawood with 400 jobs and then sold out to an overseas company. And last year a shipping company, Freightquote, got city and state tax incentives of $64.3 million to move 12 miles, from Lenexa to Kansas City, near State Line Road as it turns out.
    State Line Road is conspicuously missing in the group’s report. There are references to the metro area “which straddles the Missouri River” and Missouri using a tax credit that has “subsidized many border hoppers moving from the Kansas side of the river.” This section of the report is even called “River Pirates.”
    I think a pirate would say “arrgh.”
    Of course, most of this action is between Kansas City, Mo., and Johnson County, Kan., and the river doesn’t enter into it in the slightest. Again, a map – at least a little local knowledge – would be handy.
    So who are these folks? Well, every “non-profit, non-partisan research center based in Washington, D.C.” worth its salt takes care not to tip its hand. (That’s how Good Jobs First describes itself, and lots interest groups of various political persuasions use very similar phrasing.) Still, its website plays up “green jobs,” and “smart growth for working families,” and its report slams “interstate job fraud” and “job blackmail,” so you can do the political math for yourself.
    That said, the group makes some good points:
    -- The Kansas PEAK program – Promoting Employment Across Kansas – is unhelpful because officials have shifted it from bringing new jobs to the state to retaining jobs, too – hollowing out the tax base for no gain to the economy. The Missouri Quality Jobs tax credit kicks in for as few as 10 “new” jobs – not necessarily new jobs at all, just new to Missouri.
    Page 2 of 2 - “ ... the states need to stop subsidizing companies for existing jobs that are regarded as ‘new’ simply because their location has changed,” the group says.
    -- All of this is just not a waste of limited public money. “... (W)hen many states are still making painful budget cuts, putting lots of eggs in a few corporate baskets reduces funding available for the low-risk, high-payroll investments in education and infrastructure that benefit all employers,” the group says.
    -- And how about this? Forty states simply refuse to play this game, and none of them have gone to the dogs.
    Good Jobs First is hardly the only critic of the Missouri Quality Jobs program, which has its stout defenders as well. But there are some unavoidable facts. Kansas has been aggressive, and Missouri legislative leaders – at least the Republicans who control the General Assembly – have made it clear they feel a need to response forcefully. Look for more incentives, not fewer.
    Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s business editor. Reach him at jeff.fox@examiner.net or 816-350-6313. Follow on Twitter @FoxEJC.

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