Missouri legislators will have a narrow agenda but a good many issues to tackle nonetheless when they meet for a special session next month.

Missouri legislators will have a narrow agenda but a good many issues to tackle nonetheless when they meet for a special session next month.

Gov. Jay Nixon and legislative leaders say they now have an agreement on a range of economic development issues – an agreement that eluded legislators when they met from early January through the middle of May.

The centerpiece is massive state aid for what’s called the “aerotropolis” plan, creating a huge hub at the St. Louis airport for shipping goods from China to the U.S. The Kansas City side of the state line gets a good deal less, mostly some general policy changes that figure to help the Missouri side of the metro area hold off some of the relentless business poaching by Kansas-side communities. Presumably both the Kansas City and St. Louis areas would benefit from incentives for science-based businesses.

The tradeoff is significant, too. To pay for this economic development work, the state finally might put some limits on its dozens of tax credits, the two biggest of which are for historic preservation and low-income housing. These tax credits are expensive and deserve close scrutiny during lean times. Some of those tax credits live on because politically connected special interests thrive on them, but each was at least conceived with the idea of advancing a worthwhile goal.

Historic preservation is expensive, and surely the state can throw in enough to help make a deal happen if it saves a historic building, right? That sounds reasonable, but the costs need to be weighed carefully.

The complaint from some legislators is that, in effect, the credits are state spending that simply has to be written into the budget every year. If this were money for schools or roads, on the other hand, state officials spending that money would have to come before the legislature, make their case and field some tough questions.

The other complaint is that the state has to budget as if every dime of credit available will be applied for, even if the amount actually redeemed is a fraction of that. That doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Maybe lawmakers will straighten all that out. They had every opportunity to do that during their regular session. Better late than never? We’ll see.