Governors and key players in Kansas and Missouri agree that the economic “border war” is destructive and needs to end.
But not all of the players are on the same page or even clear about what the others are doing.
Fissures emerged this week when Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon gave a speech at a Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce luncheon. He called for governors of both states to immediately declare a moratorium on using incentives under their control to recruit companies to merely move across the state line. That should be followed up by legislative action to make the moratoriums permanent, Nixon said.
His focus on the border war is well targeted. As Nixon observed, the wooing of companies to move just a few miles from one state to another drains money from states and adds no new jobs to the region as a whole.
Within minutes, though, Republicans in the Missouri legislature were accusing Nixon of trying to seize control of state incentive programs and undermine their efforts to resolve the issue.
The Kansas secretary of commerce expressed surprise that Nixon had gone public with a proposal in the midst of ongoing talks. A Nixon administration staffer indicated the governor had become frustrated with the pace of the talks in Kansas.
The upside to the squabbling is that officials feel strongly — even proprietary — about arriving at a solution. They need to get together, and the sooner the better.
Nixon must design a strategy along with Republican lawmakers. Missouri leaders will have trouble forging a truce with Kansas if they’re feuding among themselves.
GOP accusations that Nixon is attempting a power grab are misplaced. The governor was calling for a moratorium on incentives currently under his control, not for acquiring new ones.
But Republican lawmakers have settled on a good strategy that Nixon should not undercut. They are proposing to waive automatic tax benefits that Missouri makes available to qualifying new businesses if the jobs are coming from the Kansas side of the metropolitan area. That is a more comprehensive fix than the moratorium on discretionary incentives that Nixon proposed.
Nixon may have jumped the gun, but he did spark some urgency among the various players — if only to argue with the governor. It would be great if that momentum could be employed toward a swift resolution to the border war.
Copyright The Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.