Going Too Far To Limit Voter Input
There are at least two efforts in the Missouri General Assembly to prevent the ability of local voters to restrict tax incentives within their community. I think these limitations are a very bad idea, to say the least. Both Senate Bill 672 and SB 693 have had the following amendment attached to them:
2. No political subdivision of this state shall by ballot measure impose any restriction on any public financial incentive authorized by statute.
This proposal is almost certainly in response to the attempt to limit tax incentives for Peabody and other energy companies within the City of Saint Louis. A judge’s order turned away that ballot initiative. While I certainly agreed with the attempt to limit tax subsidies, I was never comfortable with the way the initiative targeted one industry. So, you didn’t hear me objecting to the judge’s ruling. Furthermore, I have, in the past, supported legislative preemption of initiative petitions in certain cases, so I am not saying a referendum should always trump local officials.
However, a blanket prohibition against any local votes against the use of tax incentives such as Tax Increment Financing (TIF), etc., goes way too far. This is terrible public policy and improperly restricts local voter rights. If a city or county has an allowance for initiative petitions under their charter, they should be allowed to use it. If local voters want to reduce or eliminate the use of TIF, Transportation Development Districts (TDDs), Community Improvement Districts (CIDs), Enhanced Enterprise Zones (EEZs), abatements, etc., via their local tax dollars, they should be able to do so.
Attempts to use initiative petitions after the fact against approved TIFs have failed for several legal reasons. However, there should be no legal problem with preemptively prohibiting corporate welfare in a community, as long as the prohibition is even and not targeted at select industries. (Feel free to tell me how I am wrong there, lawyers, but the mere existence of these amendments tells me that is correct.)
These amendments are trying to create a legal roadblock against citizen involvement and input into how people’s own tax dollars are spent, and that would be unfortunate for Missouri.