April 17, 2013

Nota Bene: Historic Preservation Tax Credit ‘Consultant’ Supports Historic Preservation Tax Credit

Today, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a commentary by Stephen Acree, president and CEO of the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance (RHCDA). The editorial extolled the virtues of the historic preservation tax credit under the headline “St. Louis: Rebuilt with the historic tax credit.” Setting aside the demonstrable absurdity of that proposition, I think it is worthwhile to highlight an important fact-nugget that did not find its way into Acree’s piece — namely, that the RHCDA acts as a consultant for the historic preservation tax credit, as well as other tax credits. From the organization’s website (emphasis mine):

We provide Residential Development Consulting services to both non-profit and for-profit organizations. We provide expertise in structuring developments utilizing a variety of public and private resources, including federal CDBG and HOME funds; tax-exempt bond financing; and low income housing tax credit, historic tax credit and new markets tax credit transactions.

That probably should have come up at least in the author’s bio. Unfortunately, it did not.

While we are discussing the RHCDA’s portfolio of tax credit expertise, it should be noted that the Associated Press made this revelation about the New Markets tax credit program just this weekend (emphasis mine):

Missouri has authorized more than $120 million of tax credits through a program intended to entice wealthy investors to pour money into businesses in low-income areas, but the initiative has yet to produce even half the jobs that were anticipated, according to state figures provided to The Associated Press….

At the request of the AP, the state Department of Economic Development compiled a spreadsheet documenting every New Markets tax credit that has been authorized. The 9,679 “anticipated jobs” associated with the tax credits far exceeds the 823 “actual new jobs” and 3,141 “jobs retained” under the program, though those numbers could continue to rise.

This “tax credit job-shortfall” storyline is not unique. Indeed, the AP report on the New Markets program follows earlier, similar revelations about the Quality Jobs tax credit program, which I testified about earlier this year. In the case of the Quality Jobs program, 45,000 jobs were promised; according to state records, only about 7,000 jobs were created in reality. As I said then (emphasis mine):

In practice, there is no particular consequence to the state and its public officials claiming that new jobs will be coming, even if the jobs never materialize. That may explain the difference between the number of jobs state officials promise when a tax credit project is announced and the number of jobs actually created when the project winds down. To some officials, big tax credit promises look better than small tax credit promises, even if those promises do not pan out.

The same can be said of the consultants who go to bat for these credits. Acree even has the audacity to claim that the historic preservation tax credit is “Missouri’s most useful economy-boosting program.” A program that returns 23 cents on the dollar is our “most useful economy-boosting program”?! Does this suggestion horrify anyone else?

I have a better idea: Cut taxes with the money instead and let taxpayers invest their money themselves in their own businesses. Better yet, eliminate a tax or two instead of underwriting the projects of the politically well-connected. Missouri’s most useful economy-boosting program is the hard work and innovation of its taxpayers, not some bloated, special-interest government handout.

As story after tax credit story bears out, tax credit proponents/consultants have a terrible track record of substantive, sustainable, and enduring successes. The historic preservation tax credit is a central player in this ongoing, budget-busting, decade-long state development debacle. Suffice to say, I am looking forward to the findings of the state audit of the program, due to come out later this year.

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