A Bidding War Where Everyone Loses
The Kansas City Star reports today that AMC Entertainment is leaving Missouri for the state of Kansas, in part due to $47 million in tax credits. Some politicians have already begun using the loss of AMC as an excuse to promote the expansion of tax credits in Missouri.
Well, let’s not rush to do something drastic just because Kansas is set to award $47 million to a company.
Tax credits are especially bad public policy because they frequently fail. Just this week, a company in Moberly made news because it looks like the company will default on $39 million in city-backed bonds. You may remember the company, Mamtek, because politicians promised the company would create 600 jobs, the state was set to award millions in tax credits to the company, and because Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon traveled to Moberly to announce the job creation.
Unfortunately, after a newspaper was pressured to close because it was asking too many questions about the tax incentive deals, Mamtek appears to have failed. Clearly, the promise of tax credits isn’t a guarantee of investment and job creation.
If Missouri legislators are so eager to copy Kansas’ policy of awarding tax credits, they might want to look at Michigan. More than $33 billion in tax incentives each year are awarded in Michigan, and yet the state has a dismal job rate and incredibly depressed economy. Just last year, Michigan announced the creation of more than $1 billion in tax credits alone.
Certainly, if tax credits resulted in tremendous economic growth and job creation, Michigan would be on the right track. It is not. In fact, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research institute in Michigan, surveyed Michigan tax credits over a 10-year period and found that in more than 90 percent of cases, tax credits failed to deliver on promises.
It has been shown again and again: Tax credits fail frequently, and in many cases, taxpayers are stuck with the tab.
Remember Liberty Mutual? The company is still eligible to receive “Quality Jobs” tax credits from Missouri, despite the fact that it issued pink slips to many of its employees this year. Those employees were told that they could apply for lower-paying jobs at the company.
Furthermore, the argument that tax credits are just a way of returning one company’s tax dollars to it is incorrect. Tax credits are transferable, meaning that they can be sold. What this means is that a company can receive an enormous tax credit, of say $10 million, even if the company’s tax bill is only $100,000. The company can sell the remainder of the credit to someone else, and use the cash.
Transferable tax credits mean that the taxes that you and I pay subsidize tax credit projects like the “quality jobs” being created at Liberty Mutual.
Look, I understand legislators’ concern: A company is leaving Missouri for Kansas. But should we panic? Kansas has offered AMC $47 million. AMC says it will bring about 400 employees to the state. That comes out to a subsidy of more than $100,000 for each job brought to Kansas.
Maybe those jobs aren’t worth all of us chipping in more than $100,000 for each one, especially given how frequently tax credits fail to deliver on promises. Instead, we should focus on what does work. Let’s lower tax rates for everyone, instead of just the favored few. Lowering the state income tax or Saint Louis’ and Kansas City’s earning taxes would be a great place to start. Let’s get rid of unnecessary regulations and licenses that do no good, like limitations on taxi cabs, removing barriers to becoming a veterinarian, or by allowing dental therapists to provide dental care to rural and low-income Missourians.
It’s easy to call attention to a single company that moved across state lines because it could get a better deal. But let’s not forget all of the individuals and companies that stay in Missouri because of what this state does have to offer.