Doing the Same Things Over and Over and Over . . .
After a 2011 chock full of tax credit disaster stories, one would think the last thing Missouri politicians would suggest is the creation of a brand new state tax credit for economic development. And yet, here we are.
Meet the new ideas, same as the old ideas.
The Minority Leader in the Missouri House of Representatives says rather than focus only on ideas that have already been vetted, the legislature needs to consider some fresh ideas.
Mike Talboy (D-Kansas City) points to the states neighboring Missouri, all of which he says have angel investment opportunities. Those could be tax credit programs or funds that are typically smaller than some of the economic development programs already in Missouri.
He says putting programs like that into effect can provide “good bang for your buck in the beginning. But then also as the budget years get better and as we have more revenue in the state and as we see the returns on those types of programs, then you can look at expanding them if you need to or be able to expand them into different parts of the state.” Talboy says there is nothing like what he is talking about currently offered by DED.
“Angel investments” typically give the investor an ownership or convertible debt stake in a company, which oftentimes is a startup. They usually are differentiated from “venture capital investments” as investments measured in hundreds of thousands of dollars rather than millions of dollars. Angel investments — like so many investments — are inherently risky because success for a startup company is not certain, but such a high risk also has the potential for a high return. According to Jake Halliday, CEO of the Missouri Innovation Center, entrepreneurs oftentimes must give up “a 25 percent to 30 percent ownership stake in his or her startup for a $300,000 angel investment.” If the company grows, so does the angel investor’s money.
So if taxpayers underwrite these investments, will they also get a cut of the capital? I asked a similar question last year when it was revealed that half of the building Stifel Nicolaus was buying in Saint Louis — that is, the building it already occupied — was being subsidized with public monies. Taxpayers did not get to own half of the building it was paying for back then, and they almost certainly will not get a cut of the upside that could be realized from startups under an angel investor tax credit program. In short, we now are being told that Missourians should help defray the risk of high risk/high return investments that rational investors may not have undertaken. Sounds an awful lot like a bubble in the making.
If state officials really want to help businesses in Missouri, they need to stop treating the state’s economic development plan like they are throwing tax credit flapjacks against a wall to see what sticks, and instead cut taxes for everybody. Missouri’s tax credit problem has gotten so bad that Missouri officials could eliminate the corporate income tax entirely, and the state still would have millions of dollars in tax credits remaining. Even if elimination of the corporate income tax is not immediately feasible, officials easily could make deep cuts. They could eliminate millions of dollars of waste that regularly causes the state to lose all but a fraction of the money it expends in those tax credits.
Isn’t there a better way than the conventional wisdom in Jefferson City? Are more tax credits really the answer to our tax credit-fueled economic development problems?