EEZ opponents rally at Columbia City Council meeting

Monday, June 18, 2012 | 10:39 p.m. CDT; updated 8:46 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Nestor Mackno, left, Jacob Fasching and Mike Diel hold signs to protest the enhanced enterprise zone Monday evening in front of the Daniel Boone City Building, where the City Council was meeting.

COLUMBIA — More than 60 people demonstrated outside of the Columbia City Council meeting on Monday night to show continued opposition to the potential establishment of an enhanced enterprise zone in Columbia.

The demonstrators filed inside just before the council meeting began. Despite Mayor Bob McDavid's acknowledgement of the crowd – urging them against any "demonstrative actions"– both the mayor and the council members were largely unresponsive to the show of opposition.

The council was not voting on or introducing any EEZ-related actions at the meeting.

During the scheduled public comments portion of the council meeting, David Stokes, a policy analyst for the Show-Me Institute, presented preliminary results from an analysis of the original Enterprise Zone Tax Benefit program to show that programs like EEZ are not effective.

Established in 1982, the Enterprise Zone program was a precursor to the EEZ program. Like EEZ, the Enterprise Zone program provided tax credits for job creation and investment by companies within established zones. The Missouri Department of Economic Development began to phase it out in 2004 by state statute in favor of the EEZ program.

Stokes said he compared economic data from counties in Missouri with large zones to bordering counties without an enterprise zone. He said he found no significant difference in the economic performance of the two samples between 1980 and 2005.

“Whatever the numbers may be, the burden of proof is on the wrong foot,” Stokes said. “It should be the burden of supporters of such things to prove that they work.”

An EEZ is a state-run program that provides tax incentives at the state level and requires the local government to provide a property tax break of at least 50 percent on new real property investment. To qualify for the tax breaks, the companies must invest a minimum amount on facility improvement and create at least two jobs.

The establishment of an EEZ also requires the area to be declared blighted, which has sparked opposition to the program. Opponents have also questioned the effectiveness of EEZs at creating jobs, according to previous Missourian reports.

Stokes said he was invited to speak by Keep Columbia Free, a local organization that opposed the EEZ program and has initiated a petition for the recall of First Ward councilman Fred Schmidt because of his support for the EEZ.

After Stokes' address, Mitch Richards, treasurer and spokesperson for Keep Columbia Free, urged the council to listen to the public opposition to the EEZ program.

“We ask that you rescind the ordinance and dissolve the Enhanced Enterprise Zone Board,” Richards said. “We ask that you listen to us.”

Richards asked members of the audience who opposed the EEZ to stand at the end of his comments. Most of the audience stood and applauded. Many of them were among those demonstrating outside of City Hall before the meeting.

Before the 7 p.m. council meeting began, the crowd of EEZ protesters outside City Hall grew from about 25 people to more than 60.

Members of Food Not Bombs served a meal,while demonstrators held signs with slogans like “Fight the blight."

Several organizations were represented at the demonstration including Citizens Involved and Interested in Columbia or Civic, Occupy CoMo, Keep Columbia Free and Grass Roots Organizing.

Mary Hussmann, an organizer for GRO, said she didn’t think the council was listening to the people.

“You listen to the people, and you change your mind,” Hussmann said. “That’s not a sign of weakness. That’s a sign of courage.”

The City Council originally passed a resolution in February that created an Enhanced Enterprise Zone Board and declared more than half of Columbia blighted.

This resolution was rescinded on May 7, but an ordinance re-establishing the EEZ Board was passed on May 21. The EEZ Board is still working on formulating its recommendations to the council.

President of Keep Columbia Free Mark Flakne said the council's unanimous re-establishment of the EEZ Board showed that city council was not listening.

“We feel that we have been ignored,” Flakne said. “At least now they see why they’re being recalled, or why they’ll lose the next election.” 

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David Sautner June 19, 2012 | 9:37 a.m.

I think that if we had signs demanding a recall of various City Council members that might have increased an elicitation of their attention. And if the event was announced a few weeks earlier that might have increased the turnout.

(Report Comment)
Mark Flakne June 19, 2012 | 10:20 a.m.

The event experienced a better turnout than the story suggests. At its peak,around 6:50PM, the crowd swelled to over 175 people, not counting media. When the crowd moved inside to witness the scheduled public comment, the fire marshal and the police ushered many out of the main room due to room-capacity regulations.

(Report Comment)
linda green June 19, 2012 | 10:40 a.m.

This photo does not at all represent the scores of people who were at this rally.

For the true history and effect of corporations dodging taxes, tune in to a national expert who has been working in this field for over 25 years.

Mr. Greg LeRoy got started in this area by analyzing factories which had closed or were about to close. He says not a one of those companies was going under due to lack of tax abatement. So why would we think tax abatement--which is only about 1% of a companies financial picture-- would determine where companies locate? Companies usually choose their location first and then try--through giving the impression of competition with other cities--to get as much in financial perks from their target city as possible.

This false competition game results in cities giving away their tax base, which pays for city infrastructure and city services like the education of our school children, for nothing in return. Rarely are good jobs or a significant number of jobs created.

You can find Greg LeRoy online via google or You Tube search on his name. He spoke to 85 or 90 Columbians by webcam at the Columbia Public Library recently, and you can see that talk and question and answer on two videos on You Tube. Put into You Tube's search: "CiViC webcam 5 31 12 Greg LeRoy".

You can also read online LeRoy's whole book for free at: "www.Great American Jobs" or google the book title: "Great American Jobs Scam: Corporate Tax Dodging and the Myth of Job Creation". There's much information on his website:

Don't be scammed by the jobs carrot. The city hasn't produced data to support this as a plan for jobs. It's a corporate tax dodge and if it passes via our Columbia City Council, we'll all pay for it in high taxes in order to maintain quality of our city's services and infrastructure and in much of our city being called legally "Blighted" so the corporate tax dodgers can qualify for EEZs with the state.

(Report Comment)
linda green June 19, 2012 | 3:04 p.m.

Photo in today's Columbia Tribune shows a portion of the packed house in council chambers during this event. Trib headline is, "EEZ rally draws array of groups".

Here's a link:

(Report Comment)
Marie French June 20, 2012 | 9:00 a.m.

Mary Hussmann, the organizer from Grass Roots Organizing who is quoted in the story, called to say 156 opponents of the establishment of an Enhanced Enterprise Zone were at the council meeting and outside.

The count of more than 60 was an estimate of those outside City Hall at 7 p.m., just before the beginning of the city council meeting. There were substantially more people who stood to show opposition to the establishment of an EEZ during the council meeting - however, I was unable to get a good count at that time.

Marie French
Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)
mike mentor June 20, 2012 | 9:31 a.m.

It looks like a tea partier has crashed the progressive demonstration. Frenemy's?

(Report Comment)
John Schultz June 20, 2012 | 9:37 a.m.

Mike, it's a pretty broad coalition that's opposed to the EEZ. Keep Columbia Free has a bunch of small-l libertarians. There were several folks with Tea Party shirts and flags present. Monta Welch of Columbia Climate Change Coalition (think I got that right) was there, and other folks that I know lean left as well. Not many people are in favor of using everyone's tax dollars to benefit a connected few.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor June 20, 2012 | 5:27 p.m.

I don't feel I have enough information to start spouting on this topic. I try to be an involved citizen, but part of being smart is knowing where your weakness's lie... As a little l leaner, you would think this would be out of the question. But, when I think about business's who give each other discounts and incentives when it benefits both sides (Wal-Mart buys stuff for less than other buyers, but buys so much that suppliers want to supply even though they have to eat their margins...), it kind of makes sense. Now, having said that, the devil is in the details. Does this benefit both OUR city and the developers? Is this development so good for our city that we can afford to give it a discount compared to the rest of the taxpayers? Is this fair to the competition? Definitely some problems...

I said OUR like that because, as you know, there are plenty of tax dollars used around here to benefit a few. In some cases it benefits a rich few, case in point.(assuming that the incentivised development doesn't offset the incintivised part with overall goodness for which you could then argue benefits for all...) Sometimes it benefits a few that like to ride bicycles...

I would have liked to be a fly on the wall to listen in on some of those conversations though. I think anything that gets different people like that together has to be a good thing.

Thank you for your political activism and your voice of reason!

(Report Comment)

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