DAVID ROSMAN: Much of EEZ doesn't seem to fall under blight definition

Wednesday, July 4, 2012 | 3:47 p.m. CDT

My column two weeks ago concerning Columbia’s proposed enhanced enterprise zone drew praise and disapproval, depending on which side the respondent took. A number of inquiries concerned legislation SB 628, Section 135.953 and its effect on current law.

One elected official from Columbia called me concerning the definition of "blight" used to define an area as an EEZ. In his opinion SB 628 would eliminate the term “blight” from the EEZ legislation. I disagree.

Currently section 135.953.1 RSMo (Enhanced enterprise zone criteria) reads, "(1) The area shall… have pervasive poverty, unemployment and general distress; and (2) At least 60 percent of the residents living in the area have incomes below 90 percent of the median income of all residents … ."

However, there are additional portions of the definition found in section 135.950. "(By) reason of the predominance of defective or inadequate street layout, unsanitary or unsafe conditions, deterioration of site improvements, improper subdivision or obsolete platting, or the existence of conditions which endanger life or property by fire and other causes, or any combination of such factors, retards the provision of housing accommodations or constitutes an economic or social liability or a menace to the public health, safety, morals, or welfare in its present condition and use."

These definitions concerns section 135.950 to 135.970 of the current EEZ law.

If one views the city map of the original proposed EEZ, it includes about half of the city including Columbia and Stephens colleges and MU. A large area includes residential property that does not meet the "blight" criteria.

Students living off campus, some with little or no income, are included in the economic designation.

There are areas included that do not meet the sanitation, economic or social liability, or public health issues cited in the law.

In other words, much of the proposed EEZ does not seem to fall under the definitions of "blight" in the law.

Will SB 628 change anything? Hidden on page 13 of the 65-page bill, proposed additional language states, "(5) No finding of blight under this chapter shall be used to meet the conditions for blight under any other statute of this state."

Some seem to believe that this would take "blight" out of the definition for declaring an area as an EEZ. I read this differently — that the definition used in section 135.953 cannot be used in any other section of the law concerning the term "blight." To resolve this confusion, I went to the source of the bill, Rep. Caleb Jones, R-Calif.

Jones told me that the purpose of the language was to prevent the definitions found in 135.950 and 135.953 from being used elsewhere and it does not remove the definition from the EEZ sections.

The proposed language, originally introduced in the Missouri House as HB 2033, along with other proposed legislation, was combined into the single Senate bill dealing with "provisions relating to the judiciary." 

There are a number of businesses that are ineligible for the EEZ state tax credits: gambling establishments, retail trade, educational services, religious organizations, public administrators and food and drinking places.

There are two exemptions to the ineligible list. If an otherwise ineligible service business wishes approval, it must show that at least 50 percent of its business is from out of state. Additionally, "(h)eadquarters or administrative offices of an otherwise excluded business may qualify if the offices serve a multi-state territory." There appears to be no restriction as to where an eligible business is incorporated or headquartered.

The bottom line? Even with the governor’s signature, SB 628’s language concerning the definition of "blight" found in section 135.950 and 135.953, nothing will change. My position concerning the EEZ in Columbia has not changed. In fact, my opposition may be stronger now than two weeks ago.

For those looking for my column last week, my apologies. We had a number of medical emergencies that prevented me from writing my column. Fortunately everyone is fine now. For those who know what happened, thank you for your calls and notes. For those who do not know, acute depression and epilepsy are a bear.

David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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