On Commissions And The Fountainheads Of Reform
One of the first books I read in my introduction to the liberty movement was Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, the tale of an unconventional architect named Howard Roark and his commitment to designing buildings consistent with his principles. About midway through the book, Roark meets with the board member of a hotel who is considering hiring Roark, and their dialogue (located, for your consumption, at this link) pretty well summarizes my general take on what “committees” and “commissions” typically do.
In short? Usually not much.
I bring this point up as a prelude to news from yesterday that the governor of Missouri has “revived” the tax credit review commission he created in 2010, a commission which included elected officials and actually offered a pretty good report on reforming tax credits in the state. Tax credits drain hundreds of millions of dollars from the budget every year, often to the benefit of questionable “economic development” projects. (See: private homes and a country club golf course.)
Of course, since that first report was produced, there has not been tax credit reform. In fact, just months after it was published, the Missouri Legislature almost passed a massive new tax credit in the Aerotropolis bill, which we vehemently criticized pretty much from start to finish.
Attempts at tax credit reform should be applauded, but what exactly will be different about the commission this time around that will make it consequential in a way it was not before? We at the Show-Me Institute have written extensively about the first round of commission hearings and findings and the wastefulness of the state’s development tax credit system. We have offered solutions, like eliminating many of these failing credits and using the savings to completely eliminate the corporate income tax. Tax credits in Missouri are a serious problem. The first commission agreed.
Is the second commission going to . . . agree again? How does that move the reform ball forward? On the national level, you are not going to see a sequel to the 9/11 Commission or the Simpson-Bowles Debt Commission, probably ever, because a “second commission” basically implies that the first commissions did not get its work done. To be clear, the first Tax Credit Review Commission delivered its product with clear recommendations. Our elected officials have not adopted them. The problem is that our political class is basically happy to pay lip service to tax credit reform, but they refuse to expend any political capital on actually reforming tax credits, whether by adopting the substance of a commission report or by reforming tax credits in some other meaningful way.
What I want to see is leadership on the issue from our elected officials, not a cycle of committee meetings where nothing gets done. To be clear, when given the opportunity, I will vigorously fight for genuine reforms before the reconstituted commission. But only the political class can make those reforms a reality — can literally change the law — and I am not convinced at this point that a new commission is going to save taxpayers more money than it wastes. May I be proven resoundingly wrong.