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Missouri Lawmakers Reject Brownback's 'Border War' Proposal

Zach Werner, flickr Creative Commons
The Kansas City skyline.

Missouri lawmakers appear uninterested in Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's proposal to reduce the business "border war" between the two states.

Brownback last week offered to lessen his state's efforts to lure jobs away from the Missouri side of the Kansas City metropolitan area if Missouri's lawmakers would in turn weaken a law they approved in 2014 addressing the issue.

Some Missouri lawmakers said Wednesday that Brownback's proposal doesn't go far enough to stop incentives for businesses to relocate from Missouri and Kansas, The Kansas City Star reported.

Brownback directed his commerce secretary to reduce the use of a tax incentive program called Promoting Employment Across Kansas to encourage companies to move existing jobs from five border counties in Missouri to four Kansas counties. That would happen only if Missouri changes a 2014 law that offered a truce in the border fight if Kansas agrees to the law's terms by Aug. 28.

The Kansas governor also sought to have Missouri lawmakers curtail Missouri Works, the state's main business incentive program. It offers tax breaks to businesses that add a certain number of jobs while meeting minimum requirements for wage levels and health benefits. It also offers aid for employee job training.

Since 2009, 5,702 jobs have moved from Jackson County, Missouri, to Johnson or Wyandotte counties in Kansas using PEAK incentives, and 3,998 jobs have moved from Johnson or Wyandotte counties to Jackson County with Missouri Works incentives.

"Do I have any desire to amend the Missouri Works program?" said Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, a Joplin Republican. "No. I don't."

Missouri lawmakers noted Brownback's proposal did not reduce use of incentives if companies invest at least $10 million in a new building and didn't include any changes to the STAR bonds program, which allows municipalities to issue bonds to finance commercial, entertainment and tourism areas and then use sales tax revenue generated by those developments to pay off the bonds.

"They would still be offering state incentives to businesses to relocate from Missouri to Kansas," said Rep. T.J. Berry, a Republican from Clay County, one of the five Missouri border counties affected by the proposal. "A truce would mean making the Kansas City area a neutral zone where no state incentives are granted to companies hopping the border."

Berry also noted Kansas still has four months to accept Missouri's terms before the 2014 deal expires, and that the proposal less than a month before the Missouri Legislature's adjourns May 13. "He's had two years, and then waits until just before we adjourn. We can't do anything now. It's not possible," Berry said.

Brownback's spokeswoman, Eileen Hawley, said in a statement Wednesday that he governor had "offered a workable plan to end the border war that would have benefited both states by leveling the economic development playing field in the Kansas City area. The governor will only support a plan that he feels is in the best interest of his constituents and he fully expects the elected officials in Missouri to do the same."

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