It’s Still a Flight of Fancy
Last week, Jeff Rainford, Saint Louis Mayor Francis Slay’s chief of staff, wrote to the St. Louis Business Journal in opposition to the evaulation of the “Aerotropolis” bill that a few Show-Me Institute policy analysts have offered, suggesting that we have been “misstating the legislation and [supporters’] intention.” We have not, and I’d like to take this opportunity to unpack Rainford’s letter for a critical analysis.
Rainford asserts, in contradiction to the “China Hub” proposal’s own experts, that the “Big Idea” (as he calls it) is designed to “sustain 20 to 30 international cargo flights per week.” Thanks to a Sunshine law public records request of email records related to the China Hub, we know that the current $60 million tax credit proposal would require quote “volcanic demand” to reach just the 20-flight level. It’s more likely, documents reveal, that the credits would attract half that number. It is not clear whether Rainford was aware of this March reassessment.
Rainford says that the credits will result in “thousands of new jobs.” He does not justify his claim on any grounds whatsoever. Are these jobs saved and created? And what of the jobs at the warehouses already vacant in Saint Louis, encompassing 18 million square feet of unsubsidized real estate?
Rainford evokes imagined ownership of the Lambert–St. Louis International Airport by “a Wall Street hedge fund, Carl Icahn or the Chinese” as stark warnings against proposed privatization plans. Setting aside for the moment the stunning slam that Rainford levels at the very Chinese trading partners he wants to do business with, the idea that the airport under public management has been a success over the last few decades is a stunning delusion. Lambert’s flights have been reduced to a fraction from their highs only 20 years ago. In the private sector, that would spur a change in management. In the world of government bureaucrats, it apparently means throwing good money after bad, leaving the historic fundamentals unchanged.
Moreover, Rainford tells us that the bill’s supporters “are not gambling” by pushing the Aerotropolis legislation in its current form. He’s right. Gambling suggests that Missouri’s taxpayers might win by fronting the money for this exclusive group of developers. They won’t. The present bill — 85 percent of which is geared toward building unneeded warehouses, not even subsidizing flights, and 100 percent of which is funded by taxpayers — raises a couple of obvious but apparently overlooked questions. If this proposal is so dynamic and rich with potential profits, why haven’t private developers been pushing such a lucrative deal on their own? And why then are tax credits needed at all?
We certainly understand the desire to jump start the Saint Louis and Missouri economies, but we believe that public officials have taken off on a “flight of fancy” when it comes to the Aerotropolis bill.