Dave Helling at The Kansas City Star recently wrote a piece about how Kansas City and St. Louis might fare under Missouri’s new governor. Helling wrote,
Kansas City and St. Louis interests have been nervous about Jefferson City for years, of course. Rural Republican lawmakers have long looked askance at big-city projects and have turned back city efforts to raise the minimum wage or tighten gun control laws.
In January, Kansas City Mayor Sly James testified before the Missouri Senate Ways and Means Committee that the legislature should “leave us alone.” Conversely, Kansas City Councilwoman Jolie Justus, a former state senator, strikes a more diplomatic and productive tone when she told The Star, “I want to make sure we start off on a good foot with Gov.-elect Greitens, because I want to go down and explain to him … that frankly we’re the economic engines of the state, for the most part.”
Kansas City and St. Louis are the economic engines of Missouri; but recently those engines have been failing the state badly. Kansas City and St. Louis are more likely serving as obstacles to economic success, not engines. Consider the following:
- Missouri is falling behind; our economic growth rate is 48th in the nation, and has lagged the national average for some time.
- Missouri is shedding population, and Kansas City and St. Louis are the biggest contributors to the decline. Recall that Missouri recently lost a seat in Congress in the last Census.
- High taxes in Kansas City, notably the earnings tax, are an incentive for people to leave.
- Kansas City has given away so much taxpayer money to developers that they cannot provide for basic city services without borrowing money and raising taxes, despite an already high tax burden.
- Both Kansas City and St. Louis are saddled with immense debt due to years of poor financial management.
- Those two cities also are weighing down job growth from startups; a key sign of economic health (or lack thereof).
If Kansas City and St. Louis are the economic engines of Missouri, they are either stuck in neutral or reverse. No state legislature should stand by idly while so much economic opportunity is wasted. Reformers in Jefferson City would do a great deal to improve things if they reined in cities’ abilities to levy taxes, reformed economic development incentives, and greatly increased transparency at every level. Cities can be a great economic engines, but not without occasional tune-ups.