Mid-Missouri residents discuss state tax credits at Review Commission meeting

Tuesday, September 28, 2010 | 7:56 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — When the Tax Credit Review Commission asked Patricia Knowles of Macon, Mo., how to make Missouri's tax credit program better, she didn't hesitate. 

“Well, you could make it bigger,” she said. “But you’re probably not gonna do that.”

Gov. Jay Nixon assembled the commission, which includes 25 legislative, community and business leaders, on July 21. The committee's mission is to provide perspective on how the state's 61 separate tax credits are being used and to make recommendations to improve efficiency.

The tax credit program has seen a 41 percent increase in approved tax credits since its founding in 2005, according to a January 2010 legislative evaluation of tax credits. The program is not capped, and while each applicant is approved on an independent basis, its popularity and expenses continue to grow. The state granted $588 million in credits in 2009, up from $418 million in 2005.

Through her work with the Maples Repertory Theatre, Knowles has had personal experience with one type of tax credit, the Neighborhood Assistance Program tax credit. The theatre opened in 2004 and, through the help of the tax credits, was able to stage six full-scale productions during the 2009 season, in addition to two cabaret concerts and a series of smaller cabaret shows.

Tax credits are available to businesses, individuals and nonprofit organizations.

According to state regulations, qualifying credit recipients must use some of their own money in their project or undertake endeavors that have appropriate social or business qualities.

Bruce Hillis of Mexico, Mo., voiced his concern over what he sees as the main failure of the program.

“There is no accountability,” he said. “We need more transparency and accountability in the appropriations process.”

Hillis’ opinion is directly reflected in the legislative evaluation, which stated: “Since no state agency has complete records of all state tax credit programs, it is not currently possible to determine the exact cost of the tax credits nor the amount of tax credits that are issued and outstanding.”

Even so, some people voiced support for tax credits at the meeting. As Chuck Spencer, a businessman from Macon, said: “This program looks at giving people a hand up — not a handout.”

Tuesday’s meeting is the seventh so far, as the committee makes its rounds about the state. The meeting was held from 4. to 9 p.m., to ensure that all interested residents of the surrounding communities would be able to testify.

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