Missouri’s Tax Credit System

A Policy Analysis Paper

by Jeremy Wrinkle

Sept 3, 2014

Executive Summary

Missouri has developed a large and unwieldy system of tax credits. In the last decade, two separate administrations have investigated ways to reform the tax credit system. However, political interests in the legislature have defeated these reform moves. Some of the largest tax credits focus on the housing and labor markets. The Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) and Historic Preservation Tax Credit (HPTC) are the country’s most generous housing tax credits, and the most expensive. While there is evidence that the credits generate economic growth in cities where they are authorized, they also contain enormous cost overheads. The Missouri Quality Jobs Tax Credit (MQJTC) and Enhanced Enterprise Zones (EEZ) were job creation schemes. Scholarly evidence casts doubt that any new jobs were created by these credits. More likely, jobs were relocated from neighboring communities. There is also evidence that reporting from recipient firms greatly inflated the number of jobs created. EEZs, in particular, may have harmed some school districts’ finances. Finally, Missouri tax credits as a whole were found to have deleterious effects on the state’s finances, and cause numerous, costly economic distortions.


History of Missouri Tax Credits

Missouri’s first tax credit was authorized by the state legislature in 1973. This tax credit had a social goal in mind––to lessen the property tax burden on seniors and the disabled (Schmidt 2009). Since that time, the accretion of tax credits has triggered calls for reforms. In 2005, Governor Matt Blunt convened the Joint Committee on Tax Policy to review Missouri’s taxation and public financing system. Among its other mandates, the committee investigated the cost and effectiveness of the state’s numerous tax credits. The committee made recommendations to abolish several of the credits (including the Film Production tax credit), merge several economic development credits into Missouri Quality Jobs and Neighborhood Assistance programs, and place caps on the remaining tax credits (Joint Committee on Tax Policy n.d.).

In 2007, the legislature took action to put these recommendations into effect. However, they failed. HB 27, as it was originally written, only contained reforms for Missouri Quality Jobs, Enhanced Enterprise Zones, and a credit called the New Jobs Training Program (Joint Committee on Tax Policy n.d.). However, the Senate added the creation of four new tax credits, modified and extended several more, and didn’t abolish any. After several legislative conferences, compromise bill HB 327 was passed by both houses and sent to the governor’s desk. This bill mostly resembled HB 27, doing little to actually reform the tax credit system. It was vetoed (Joint Committee on Tax Policy n.d.). Governor Blunt then called a special session of the state legislature, where an economic development bill was passed. This bill created three new tax credits and modified extended the Film Production, Missouri Quality Jobs, and Enhanced Enterprise Zone tax credits (Joint Committee on Tax Policy n.d.).

After the legislative failure to rein in tax credits, the Joint Committee on Tax Policy decided to narrow the scope of its work to tax credits. It recommended that two credits, the Wood Energy and Manufacturer Recycling Flexible Cellulose Casings tax credits be terminated. It also recommended that the Children in Crisis tax credit be amended to narrow its focus to placement of children in Missouri homes. Lastly, it recommended that information about tax credits be made publicly available, and that elected officials disclose what tax credits they receive to the state (Joint Committee on Tax Policy n.d.).

In 2010, a new governor, Jay Nixon, convened another commission, the Missouri Tax Credit Review Commission. This commission recommended that the state abolish 28 tax credits, and restructure 30 others to enhance efficiency. They also recommended that tax credits not be subject to the standard appropriations process. Rather, they suggested that tax credit disbursements be regulated by their authorizing statutes, and reviewed during the sun-setting process. This would make tax credit payments predictable, and aid in the budgeting process (Missouri Tax Credit Review Commission 2010). To further reduce costs, the commission recommended that all tax credits have a limit on the amount of distributions in a year. Another cost-control proposed by the commission was the elimination of the option to apply the tax credit to back and future tax liabilities. For the two largest tax credits, the Low Income Housing and Historic Preservation tax credits, the tax credit reduction window would be reduced. Claw back provisions were also proposed for each tax credit that would allow the state to reclaim public money if strict performance benchmarks are missed (Missouri Tax Credit Review Commission 2010).

None of the committee’s proposals were ever enacted by the legislature. With little movement on the legislative front, the Governor Nixon convened a second tax credit review committee in 2012. In addition to the recommendation for sunsetting clauses, the new committee also recommended that the public be given ample warning before credits are discontinued. Previously authorized credits would still be honored. The committee also proposed that the state government system of competitive bidding and procurement be extended to firms who are receiving a tax credit. The Brownfield Remediation Tax Credit already mandated a competitive bidding process (Missouri Tax Credit Review Commission 2012). The committee suggested that the legislature forbid the combining of the Low Income Housing, Historic Preservation, and Brownfield Remediation tax credits in single projects. Instead, they suggested that projects that qualify for all three credits have each credit reduced in order to achieve cost savings. The Brownfield credit would be the primary credit, which would reduce the amount of reimbursement from the Historic Preservation credit, which would in turn reduce the Low Income Housing credit (Missouri Tax Credit Review Commission 2012).

Much like in past years, very little activity has taken place to rein in tax credit expenditures. This issue continues to be a source of statewide controversy (“Editorial: Missouri is drunk on tax credits…” 2013). Given past performance, the possibility of real tax credit reform appears remote.

Low Income Housing Tax Credit

The LIHTC was first created in 1990. The legislature created the program to provide extra incentive to developers to expand the supply of low income housing. The program began by kicking in a maximum of 20% of the Federal low income credit. This increased to 40% after the flood of 1993, and 100% soon after. In order to qualify for the credit, developers must ensure that either 40% of their units are affordable for tenants at 60% of the median income, or 20% of the units are affordable for those at 50% median income. In addition to public policy requirements, qualifying developments must also be supported by the local community, have other financing, and have a sound business plan that will ensure financial viability. The credit can either be applied to the previous three years of income tax returns, or applied to five years of future returns (Missouri State Auditor 2014).

Missouri’s LIHTC is the most generous in the country. Very few other states have a 100% match with Federal dollars. This has made the credit very controversial, fomenting opposing coalitions of unlikely alliances. As an example, a recent controversy unfolded, where Governor Nixon held several million dollars in credits that were earmarked for already-approved low income housing projects. He was holding these credits in the hopes of using this leverage to get a tax deal that would entice the Boeing Corporation to expand production in Saint Louis (Reischman 2013). This deal triggered outrage among the state’s Democratic black caucus, and surprisingly, also the Republican Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder (Office of the Lieutenant Governor 2014). On the opposing side, were Democratic Governor Jay Nixon, and conservative Republicans such as Brad Lager and John Lamping. The pro-LIHTC side extolled the tax credit as a vital tool for ensuring an ample supply of affordable housing and a driver of construction jobs. The anti-LIHTC side believed the credit to be inefficient, a giveaway to powerful corporate interest groups, and believes that other policy tools could meet the goals of the LIHTC at a lower cost (Young 2014).

There is evidence to support both sides. A cost-benefit analysis by Cook, Mitchell, and McCarthy (2007) proposed that the LIHTC was responsible for over $4.2 billion in economic output between 2000 and 2005. The activity generated by the tax credit, according to their report, created $190 million in tax revenues, and 42,000 full-time equivalent jobs. 87% of this economic benefit was located in Kansas City and Saint Louis metro. In those two metro regions, they found that each dollar spent on the tax credit generated $1.77 in construction-related economic activity. For other metro regions, $1.65 was generated for every $1. In out-state Missouri, this multiplier was $1.47. The multipliers were even better for operations-related economic activity. The multipliers were $1.80/$1 for Kansas City, $1.85/$1 for Saint Louis, $1.60/$1 for other metro regions, and $1.51/$1 for out-state Missouri (Cook, Mitchell, & McCarthy 2007). In a final analysis, the authors predicted that the increased economic activity, increased taxes, and present value cost of the lost tax revenue from the tax credit would create a total net benefit of $3.2 billion for the state, or $4.76 for every $1 spent.

The critics of the LIHTC have their own evidence––and it comes from the state Auditor’s office. In fact, it spans two administrations from both parties. In 2008, Auditor Montee found that only $0.35 of every dollar dispersed for the LIHTC actually went to the building of low income housing. The remainder was lost to investors and third party resellers of credits. Because very few developers have tax liabilities large enough to make it worthwhile, a resale market is allowed. This process is called syndication. The credits are repurchased at a discount by investors, who are seeking to reduce their state tax liabilities (Missouri State Auditor 2008). In theory, this market ensures that liquidity will flow to low income housing projects that might otherwise not receive loans from banks. But as Auditor Montee found, very little of the intended cash actually goes toward the social goal of the credits. The auditor noted that this inefficient system is equivalent to the state taxpayer financing the creation of low income housing at a 20% interest rate (Missouri State Auditor 2008). Further adding to the inefficiency of the system, the cost of each housing project is not revealed to the public until after the projects are approved (Missouri State Auditor 2008). In fact, very few, if any, cost controls were built into the tax credits themselves or in the project approval process. This has transformed a system that was intended toward a worthy social goal (affordable housing) into a complex and opaque regime that benefits rent-seekers.

Historic Preservation Tax Credit

The HPTC was created by the state legislature in 1997 (Schmidt 2009). Like the previously discussed LIHTC, the HPTC is a state adjunct to a federal tax credit program. For a property to be eligible to receive the credit, it must either be designated a historical place, or be in a designated historic district. The state credit will cover up to 25% of the rehabilitation costs. The rehabilitations costs must be greater than $5000, and the project must be completed within two years. Unlike the federal credit, residential properties are eligible to receive the state credit. Also, there is no requirement for recipients of the state credit to keep possession of the property for at least five years (Schmidt 2009). There is a thirteen-year window to redeem the credit. The HPTC may be applied to the previous three years of taxes, or to the next ten years of taxes. Since 2009, there has been a cap on the amount of authorizations. Authorizations are now limited to $140 million per year, though projects smaller than $275,000 are exempt (Schmidt 2009). However, this does not change the total amount of tax credit redemptions per year. Redemption amounts remain stochastic.

The HPTC has substantial, positive effects on the local economy. According to a 2012 study prepared for the City of Columbia’s Historic Preservation Commission, projects that received a HPTC generated $201 million in economic activity, 950 jobs, and $73 million in labor income between 2002 and 2012 (City of Columbia, Historic Preservation Commission 2012). Since 2002, when the first HPTC project was approved, $89 million has been spent in the community on historic preservation. In Columbia, for every dollar spent on the HPTC generates $4.40 in investments. Three-fourths of the economic activity generated by the HPTC is in the construction industry, with the remainder being in legal services, engineering, real estate, management, and finance. Within the city, the economic output multiplier was 1.27 for every dollar invested (Historic Preservation Commission 2012).

While the HPTC has positive economic effects on communities, it is not without problems. Missouri’s HPTC is by far the largest and most expensive in the country. Between 2001 and 2012, Missouri’s reimbursements for historic preservation were 62% higher than the next highest state, Massachusetts (Missouri State Auditor 2014). Missouri’s reimbursements were substantially higher than the next four highest states. This is surprising, considering each state was an original colony, with settlement from the 17th Century. As mentioned earlier, while there is a $140 million cap on the credit, the $275,000 exemption and the allowance for residential rehabilitations largely undo the cap as a cost control. The HPTC also suffers from inefficiency. As little as $0.49 per dollar goes to historic preservation. Like the LIHTC, the HPTC is also sold to third party investors. That means a substantial amount of the credit goes to finance costs, investor profits, and federal taxes (Missouri State Auditor 2014). While the HPTC has a substantially positive impact on local economies, it could probably have that same impact for less cost if stricter cost controls and rule changes were implemented.

Job Creation Tax Incentives

There have been several job creation tax credits created in Missouri. Today, the main tax credit program is Missouri Works. Before this program is discussed though, the previous programs, Missouri Quality Jobs Tax Credit (MQJTC) and Enhanced Enterprise Zones (EEZ), will be reviewed.

Missouri Quality Jobs

MQJTC was authorized by the state legislature in 2005 to provide tax incentives to employers to create more jobs, or to preserve jobs that were already extant (Missouri State Auditor 2012). The credit allowed businesses to keep income taxes taken out of an employee’s paycheck, if that employee’s job was created using the MQJTC. In order for a job to qualify, the job had to be full-time, with employer-paid health insurance, and must pay the prevailing wage or better for that county. Like the other aforementioned credits, this credit was also sellable (Missouri State Auditor 2012). Businesses in the gambling, retail, restaurant, public utilities, ethanol/biodiesel, education, or religious sectors were ineligible to receive the credit. For all eligible sectors, businesses in rural areas had to pledge to create at least 20 new jobs, or 40 new jobs in suburban and urban areas. Technology businesses needed only to pledge 10 new jobs (Missouri Department of Economic Development 2014). The credit could be applied to three year’s of income taxes if the wages of the jobs created were between 100% and 119% of the county’s prevailing wages. If the wages were greater than 120% of prevailing wages, then the credit was good for five years. For firms in the technology sector, their incentive was to receive 5% back of their qualifying wage costs, with an Average Wage bonus. This Average Wage bonus gave back an extra 0.5% of payroll if wages were between 120% and 140% of county prevailing wages, or 1% if payrolls were greater than 141% of prevailing wages. For another category, High Impact Businesses, there was a benefit of 3% of payroll, plus the Average Wage Bonus, and another bonus called the Local Incentive Bonus. This bonus would kickback a percentage of payroll costs for each increase in local taxes raised. The tiers were: 10%-24% increase in local taxes from project––1% bonus; 25% to 49%––2%; and greater than 50%––3% (Missouri Department of Economic Development 2014).

This was a complicated tax credit, and it does not appear to have been very effective. Wall (2013) found statistically significant negative employment effects on counties that bordered counties that received the MQJTC. The implication of this is that the “new” jobs created due to the tax credit were actually jobs that were relocated from neighboring communities. This effect was especially pronounced in outstate, rural Missouri. The author estimates that within five years from the date of the tax credit authorization, all of the net jobs created by the MQJTC were completely cancelled out by job losses in neighboring counties. Thus, no new jobs were created in the state. For specific years, the effects of the MQJTC are even more grim. In 2011, there was a net loss in jobs that could be attributed to the tax credit. The author estimates that there were 5,380 jobs lost, or 16 jobs per $1 million in tax credit authorizations (Wall 2013).

This of course assumes that the jobs that were reported as created were really created. The Missouri State Auditor casts doubts on this. The auditor found that a significant portion of MQJTC recipient firms that were sampled did not have adequate documentation to prove their base employment number. Or in other words, the number of existing jobs the firms claimed when they received the credit could have been underreported. This would allow these firms to inflate the number of new jobs they created, if any, and receive more public money (Missouri State Auditor 2012). The agency charged with providing oversight, the Department of Economic Development (DED), did not perform site visits for 9 of the 10 sampled firms. This would have made it much easier for credit-receiving firms to defraud the state. The auditor also found that the DED did not provide verification for the retained withholdings businesses were pocketing. The auditor believes that many firms could be retaining withholdings from jobs that already existed before the firm received the tax credit. DED was also lax in verifying that the new jobs that were claimed by these firms were eligible jobs according to the rules of MQJTC. For example, the auditor found that DED was not verifying that these new jobs were receiving the minimum required health insurance benefits. Lastly, DED was found to be underreporting the amount of tax credit redemptions that were being issued––underreporting the true cost by ~10% (Missouri State Auditor 2012).

MQJTC did have its supporters––mostly recipient corporations. Express Scripts has publicly stated that it would not have been able to expand operation in the Saint Louis area without the tax credit. They claim that they used the money from the credit to create 459 positions (Lieb 2013). Monsanto states that it created 650 jobs based on a 2007 tax credit approval, exceeding the anticipated 500 jobs. The DED disputed this though, showing that only 394 jobs were actually created.

Enhanced Enterprise Zones

Businesses located within a designated Enhanced Enterprise Zone (EEZ) are eligible for an EEZ tax credit. The EEZ is determined by a local government, and approved by the DED. This approval was determined based on the candidate EEZ’s viability as a source of job creation, and industrial clustering (Missouri Department of Economic Development 2013). Businesses receiving this tax credit had to invest $100,000 and hire at least two new employees, if they were creating a new facility or an expanded one. If the business was replacing a facility, then the required investment was $1,000,000, with the same 2-hire requirement. Like the MQJTC, all the new jobs created must be given health insurance benefits. Additionally, the same schedule of excluded business types (retail, gambling, etc.) applied to businesses receiving the EEZ tax credit. The time period that the tax credit could be redeemed was far narrower than the aforementioned credits. It was limited to the year the credit was authorized. EEZ tax credits can be syndicated, but their sale price may not be lower than 75% of the value at authorization (Missouri Department of Economic Development 2013). To prevent Missouri communities from competing with each other for firms, businesses which received the EEZ tax credit were required to receive permission from the locality they were leaving if they were moving to another Missouri community. EEZ-receiving businesses were also required to receive at least a decade’s worth of property tax abatements. Lastly, businesses receiving the EEZ credit were ineligible for most other job-related tax credits (Missouri Department of Economic Development 2013).

Very little research has been conducted on the EEZ tax credits. However, the EEZ (among other tax credits) was studied for its impact on public education. Ward (2012) found that for districts with an EEZ, there was a significant loss of property tax revenues. He found that district size, the growth rate in property valuations assessments, and expenditures per student were the best predictors for loss in revenues from an EEZ. He also determined that the percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunches was a weak predictor. District enrollment growth rate and district tax rates were not significant predictors (Ward 2012). Boone County, at that time, did not have an EEZ. However, if an EEZ-like program were to be implemented in the Columbia 93 school district, the district could stand to lose a lot of money, as it meets a lot of the significant predictor criteria (Wrinkle 2014).

Missouri Works

Missouri Works (MWTC) is the new job creation program that was authorized in August 2013. It replaced the Missouri Quality Jobs and the Enhanced Enterprise Zone tax credit (Missouri Department of Economic Development 2014). This new program was created with the goals of being more effective than the previous programs, and helping Missouri to be more competitive with neighboring Kansas (having recently enacted its own job creation tax credits) (Dornbrook 2013). The new credit’s features will sound similar to the programs it replaced, with some key new features. MWTC lowers the number of jobs that need to be created to receive credit, compared to MQJTC. In the “Zone Works” part of the program, the firm needs to be in an EEZ, invest $100,000 in new capital financing, and pay 80% of the county’s prevailing wage. In the “Rural Works” part, the firms must be located in outstate Missouri, invest the same amount of capital, and pay 90% of the prevailing wage. The next three programs forego the capital investment requirements. The statewide program, “Statewide Works”, requires a minimum of ten new jobs to be created, at 90% prevailing wage. For the previous three programs, firms may keep employees’ withholding for five years. For pre-existing, Missouri-based companies, the benefit period is six years (Missouri Department of Economic Development 2014). The next program is “Mega Works 120”. A minimum of 100 new jobs must be created, at 120% of prevailing wages. Firms receiving benefits from this program get 6% of their new payroll in reduced tax liability. “Mega Works 140” is a similar program, except firms are required to pay 140% of prevailing wage, and receive 7% of new payroll in return.

While Missouri does not place limits on the amount of withholding firms can keep for themselves, there is a $106 million cap on the program for the 2014-15 fiscal year. This will increase to $116 million in 2016, and stay at that level thereafter. In order to receive the credit, the firm must submit a proposal to the DED. In this proposal, the firm provides a start date for minimum job and investment thresholds to be calculated. Benefits are withheld from the firm for two years, until these thresholds are met. Lastly, if the firm meets certain incentives, such as financial health or economic advantage to disadvantaged regions, then the Missouri Works programs allows for other benefits to be distributed. These extra incentives are only available in the Statewide and Mega Works programs (Missouri Department of Economic Development 2014). Since the program was started this year, it is too early to determine if it will be successful. Given the problems with other tax credits, there is cause for skepticism.

Fiscal Impact

From FY10 to FY12, total tax credit redemptions increased from $493,170,570 to $615,896,450, or 25% in two years (Missouri Tax Credit Review Commission 2012). These outlays are the equivalents of appropriations––they are money out of the state’s checkbook. For comparison, the state FY14 underfunding of the education foundation formula is estimated to be $656 million (The Missouri Budget Project 2014). Medicaid expansion, according to a leading opponent’s estimates, would cost $250 million in FY19 (Schaefer 2014)––less than half of what was spent on tax credits in 2012.

Beyond removing revenue from education and health care, tax credits also have secondary costs to the state economy (Davis 2013). The state’s economy is connected to the national economy, and as such, it is not possible for the tax credit (a transfer from the public to a firm) to remain confined within the borders of the state. Unless the tax credit is written to micromanage the firm’s decision, managers can use the cash from the credit to accept bids from out of state firms, or hire non-Missourians. The Federal tax code also extracts some of the tax credit transfer. Since the Federal government allows firms to deduct local taxes, a tax credit acts as a revenue increase. This increases the recipient firm’s Federal taxes, and increase cash outflows to Washington DC (Davis 2013).

Tax credits may also crowd out private investment that would have otherwise taken place without government expenditures. As an example, Eriksen and Rosenthal (2010) find that there is substantial crowding out in the LIHTC. Their model shows that the crowd out effect is so big, that it cancels out the increase in low income housing supply. There is no net increase in supply, just changes in where developers locate their housing units. Thus, the social policy goal desired by the legislature is not met, and at substantial taxpayer loss.

Finally, tax credits and tax policy in general may be a poor tool for economic development. Bartik (1994) found that, in a meta-study of 48 states, business activity increased only 3% for every 10% reduction in tax liability. This suggests low tax-price elasticity among firms, that is, a firm’s business decisions on hiring, capital investment, or location choices are not responsive to state tax rates. Bartik did however find one form of taxation where firm activity was very elastic––local property taxes. For every 10% reduction in those taxes, there was a 20% increase in local economic activity. He conjectures that this is due to firms located in nearby communities relocating to lower tax jurisdictions. This suggests that tax credits that attempt to reduce state and local tax liabilities in a targeted area (such as the Enhanced Enterprise Zones) only succeed in shuffling economic activity within the state, and do not actually create new economic growth or jobs. Such tax credits only succeed in bleeding the state treasury, while harming some Missouri communities for the benefit of their neighbors.

Conclusion

Despite the original good intentions of the first tax credit, the current system has grown complex and economically damaging. The state as an institution is a powerful force, with the ability to pick winners and losers. In some instances, the winners are working families, when regimes such as Earned Income Tax Credits are passed. However, in Missouri, the winners are powerful political interests and campaign contributors. While there are over 60 tax credits in Missouri, not a single one is an EITC. Rather, they are, as one critic noted, taxpayer-funded gifts to rent seekers. In time, a fiscal reality check may force the legislature to finally take up tax credit reform. Until then, Missouri’s schools, hospitals, and mental health services are sure to suffer the consequences of these economically poor policy choices.

 

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