Death on the Vine in Jeff City
Every legislative session, there is plenty of bad legislation introduced. But each year, there often seems to be a few especially terrible pieces of legislation that stand out.
Perhaps the thing that makes bad legislation into terrible legislation is when legislators try to implement programs that have clearly proven to be failures elsewhere (or previously). This is exactly the case for a few bills I have been following closely that seem close to passing this year.
There are many poorly designed tax credit and subsidy plans. Out of all of them, film tax credit programs are among the most studied, probably because of their more high-profile nature. People find films to be more interesting than soybeans, I guess. Those studies are clear in their conclusions: film tax credits do not succeed in growing the economy and do not generate the tax revenues to justify the subsidies. Missouri used to have a film tax credit program and we removed it—how often does that happen?—because it was clear it was not working. Yet, once more, there is legislation moving to reinstate a failed program. Why in heaven should Missourians pay millions of dollars to watch Ben Affleck drink coffee on Main Street for a few days? Missouri is better off without film tax credits. If the people of Georgia or California want to subsidize the shows and movies we watch, go ahead and let them. (Related bills are SB 961 & SB 732, primarily SB 961 at this point.)
Closely related to the zombie-like film tax credit program is the proposed Entertainment Industry Jobs Tax Credit that will provide tax subsidies for businesses that provide rehearsal and touring studios in Missouri. This entire program is aimed at one new company opening in Chesterfield, one that has already received other state and county tax subsidies. Apparently, that is not enough, as this proposal would have taxpayers further fund this new studio and entertainment center. It is simply awful policy for the state to decide that this particular type of business deserves a subsidy as opposed to a thousand other types of businesses. Taxes should pay for public goods such as parks, police, and transportation. There are other public goods, too, but however you define it, a private recording studio doesn’t make the cut. A new business coming to Missouri and, first and foremost, investing in a massive lobbying effort to get taxpayers to fund its operations represents everything that is wrong with our current system. (Related bills are SB 961 & SB 733, primarily SB 961 at this point.)
Another program that has consistently failed in Missouri is land banks. Show-Me Institute researchers produced significant work years ago on how the St. Louis land bank succeeded in accumulating property, not disposing of it (as was the plan), and empowered local politicians further by politicizing the land bank decisions. When Kansas City wanted to institute a land bank, Institute analysts warned those failures would be repeated there. According to investigative reports by the Kansas City Star, that is precisely what happened. The Kansas City land bank has favored local politicians at the expense of local communities, among many other problems. Despite that record, there are bills to now allow any city or county in the state to institute a land bank. This bill would empower local governments to proactively seize or purchase private property under the guise of assisting development. This would be highly troubling even if land banks had a successful track record, but the track record is terrible in St. Louis and Kansas City. (Related bills are HB 2177, SB 1089, and SB 724, primarily HB 2177 and SB 724 at this point.)
In government, nothing succeeds like failure. There is nothing quite as frustrating as watching legislators—many of whom would consider themselves supporters of limited government—trying to pass bills that propose policies with a proven record of failure.
I like a nice vineyard and a good glass of wine as much as anyone, but for these spoiled grapes, I’m hoping they all die on the vine in the last week of the session.