One theme being bandied about regarding Burns and McDonnell’s request for tax subsidies is that company officials did not ask for as much as they could have and, furthermore, the company somehow deserves credit for this. From The Pitch:
To its credit, Burns & McDonnell isn’t seeking every tax break under the sun. “Greg’s first instruction to us was to find out what we needed to get the rents to be equal [to the company's current headquarters] and stop there,” [Burns & McDonnell Director of Government Affairs Mike] Talboy says.
Or, as KSHB Channel 41 quoted Burns and Mac:
We are not requesting all the incentives that were available to us. Our goal throughout this process was to achieve a package that will allow us to pay fair market value.
Talk about adding insult to injury, after asking for millions of dollars in public subsidies, Burns & Mac wants to be lauded for not taking even more. This is modern crony capitalism: demand hard-earned taxpayer dollars and then expect us to act like you’re Andrew Carnegie.
Let’s be clear. Burns and McDonnell is asking for an enormous amount of subsidies, a.k.a., other people’s money, to build its expansion. The company is seeking a substantial Tax Increment Financing (TIF) package, a real estate tax abatement, a construction sales tax abatement, and probably more that I am missing.
Yael Abouhalkah writes in defense of Burns and Mac (in an overall well-balanced article):
One more thing: Kansas City politicians have approved far more expensive public subsidies — guaranteed by the city and gobbling up 100 percent of TIF revenues. Burns & McDonnell’s project is not city-backed, and it’s a 50 percent TIF.
TIFs are not intended to have the backing of local governments. The ones that are are exceptions, and damaging exceptions at that. So, no credit to Burns and Mac on that one.
The 50 percent claim is more disturbing. One hundred percent of subsidies for TIF are reserved for property taxes. State law limits sales and earnings taxes in TIF to 50 percent. But if you combine earnings and property taxes in the TIF, the company would have to either ask for a TIF far larger in percentage terms than the city normally approves, or it would have to hit its approximately $40 million TIF goal much quicker than 23 years.
Is there a solution that gives the company and the politicians the best of all worlds? Of course there is. Break aside the property taxes as part of a real estate abatement separate from the TIF, only use earnings (and the much smaller utility) taxes in the TIF, and then tell everyone you are making a sacrifice. Even though your subsidies will now last for two years more than they otherwise would have.
From the Kansas City Star (Chapter 100 bonds are the real estate tax abatement vehicle):
The plan includes $41.9 million in tax increment financing assistance over 23 years and a Chapter 100 bond that will save the company $41.8 million in property taxes over 25 years.
Real estate abatements are not generally given alongside TIFs, so let’s toss aside any notion that Burns and Mac is doing the city a favor by asking only for the “50 percent” earnings tax subsidy. This is $84 million in tax dollars the company will not have to pay. That means higher taxes for everyone else to pay for the services people need and want. (I admit that I don’t always agree with the “wants.”)
All this from a company that is proud to pay the earnings tax and gladly supported the effort to keep it in place. I can only imagine how much they would have asked for if they didn’t love paying the earnings tax so much.
The Show-Me Institute and others are not going to take our high school civics lessons and go home as long as modern-day corporate courtiers are abusing government authority to subsidize themselves at the expense of the taxpayers. Burns and Mac certainly has a Ph.D. in backroom cronyism.