New Year’s Resolutions for Missouri Lawmakers
As first appearing in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Are you listening, Missouri lawmakers? This is the Ghost of Christmas Past. I am calling on you to mend your ways and adopt a whole new set of economic policies to replace the failed policies of the past two decades.
Yes, my friends, it is time for you to admit that what you have been doing—in spending billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to subsidize commercial projects for the benefit of big, cash-rich companies such as Boeing, Cerner, Capri Casinos, Wal-Mart, and Whole Foods—has been a ghastly mistake.
In the 16 years from 1997 through 2013, Missouri has trailed every other state in the nation but one in average annual economic growth. Missouri ranked 49th out of the 50 states in growth of state gross domestic product—just ahead of bottom-dwelling Michigan.
And that is despite (or, I would say, because of) the fact that you have turned Missouri into one of the nine states considered the “corporate welfare kings of America.” According to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, Missouri has committed more than $5.2 billion in state and local subsidies to private businesses over the past two decades. That is more than all but eight other states.
What else can I say to convince you of the urgent need for change? Well, perhaps some specific suggestions would help.
Here are five New Year’s resolutions for making Missouri a better place to live and work and grow a business:
- Stop putting the public sector cart in front of the private sector horse. That is to say, begin with the recognition that all the private sector really needs to create wealth and jobs is competition and freedom of choice. It doesn’t need central planning and controls, which have the opposite effect of stifling individual initiative and economic growth.
- Abolish the Missouri Department of Economic Development (DED) and return the money that the DED passes out in targeted tax credits for economic development (about $400 million a year) to everyone (not just the politically selected few) through broad-based cuts in the state income tax for individuals and businesses.
- Take advantage of a wealth of opportunities across the state to enlarge the private sector and shrink the public sector through privatization. That is what Arnold did recently in selling its publicly owned and operated sewer system to a private contractor for $13.2 million—allowing the city of 20,000 people to pay off $8 million in sewer bonds and devote another $5.2 million to other public improvement. Better yet, under private ownership, the sewer system will go on the tax rolls and help pay for schools and other public services.
- Make greatly increased use of tolls on Hwy. 70 and other major roadways and bridges. Tolls are an extremely efficient tax, and—as a result of new technology—they are readily collectible without toll booths or other inconvenience to people using the roadways. In fact, through variable tolls, the Missouri Department of Transportation could—at minimal cost—guarantee drivers congestion-free traffic flows at all hours of the day on major roadways and bridges.
- Finally, look to what neighboring states are doing in reorienting their tax structures and put Missouri in the forefront of states that are pursuing pro-growth, pro-economic freedom reforms.
In the Christmas spirit, I urge you to make all those changes—knowing that you will wake up shortly wanting to fix the problems that have kept Missouri from reaching its full potential.
Andrew B. Wilson is a resident fellow and senior writer at the Show-Me Institute.