Governor Should Veto Data Center Tax Exemption Legislation
The legislative session may be over but that doesn’t mean the lawmaking is done. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has a plethora of bills before him at this writing that he can either veto, sign, or let pass into law without his signature. Among them is a battery of sales tax exemption changes that deserve the additional scrutiny the governor is giving them.
When the legislative session started, talk about sales tax exemption changes generally focused on a problem the legislature actually needed to address — whether personal training services should constitute “entertainment” for sales tax purposes. Unfortunately, that evolved into a package of legislation (encompassing several bills) that also included sales tax exemptions for manufactured homes, data centers, electricity transmission, and more. The governor is predicting that the cost to the state for the bills could be upwards of $400 million, with hundreds of millions more in costs at the local level.
Whether that top-line total is exactly correct, it is clear that many of these sales tax carve-outs look a great deal like special interest income tax credits when it comes to the narrowness of the benefits and the political considerations that went into extending them. Indeed, legislators have been trying to direct tax credits to data centers in the state for years now. That the legislature decided to throw money at the industry through a different section of the tax laws comes, unfortunately, as little surprise.
The legislature is right to cut taxes for Missourians, but cutting big special deals for favored industries, whether through tax credits or exemptions, should be a non-starter. More to the point, the governor should veto the data center legislation even though doing so would mean better tax policies — which were bound to the fate of the questionable exemptions — will have to be reintroduced next session. If he does, next year, the legislature should take what the state would have foregone with the business exemptions and apply much of it instead to broad tax cuts for businesses. If the state can do without the millions in revenue assigned to many of these special exemptions, it can continue to do without that revenue — but this time through broad tax cuts. That would be a better policy.