Kansas City Mayor Sly James called together a group of 27 Missouri mayors, including himself, in Columbia Monday to discuss matters that affect municipalities.
The non-partisan body focused on key issues, including recent cuts to low-income housing tax credits.
Members of the Missouri Housing Development Commission voted 6-2 Friday against providing $140 million in state low-income housing credits for this fiscal year.
The Columbia Tribune reported that former Republican State Senator Jason Crowell of Cape Girardeau made the motion to fully fund federal tax credits, but not distribute state credits.
The move was orchestrated by Republican Governor Eric Greitens and allies on the commission, including GOP Attorney General Josh Hawley. In a statement Friday, Greitens said “for every dollar that went into the program, only about 42 to 55 cents actually went to building housing for poor people”.
Lieutenant Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican who voted against the motion, said financing federal tax credits but not the state portion would have a “dramatic effect” on low-income housing.
Mayor James contends the move will hurt Kansas City’s ability to provide workforce housing as well as housing for veterans and people of low means. He said that Evelyn Craig of the non-profit housing and supportive services provider reStart Inc. was announcing Monday that veterans in the city now have full accommodations.
“We have finally reached functional zero on veteran’s homelessness in Kansas City,” said James. “Without low income housing tax credits that would have been an impossibility.”
James notes the credits are used to build housing in undeveloped areas and on projects that offer a lower return on investment. He thinks Greitens stacked the commission with people who would guarantee outcomes he favored.
James claims Greitens’ previous Governor’s Committee on Simple, Fair and Low Taxes never studied how the housing credits were being applied in Kansas City or St. Louis. “It seems to me to be a rather non-transparent analysis of a program that fits an agenda, but doesn’t do anything to help people.”
The panel actually held town hall meetings in Maryville, Hannibal, Cape Girardeau, and Springfield. It issued its findings over the summer, which called for the low-income housing credits be converted into a low interest loan program.
Mayor James contends doing so would severely hamper the ability of the program to function.
“A low interest loan would have to be paid back,” James said. “And that means that you would need more return on investment in order to make those payments. And if you need more return on investment in order to make those payments, than that means that a lot of your projects simply won’t get done, period, end of story.”
The committee report concluded that taxpayers would save up to $250 million over 10 years if the credits were converted to low interest loans.
The report mirrors some of the findings in a study issued by Democratic state Auditor Nicole Galloway that was critical of the budget impact of tax credits in general.
In it, Galloway identified the low-income housing credit as the largest programs in the state. The study said the program also represents a significant liability to the state with approximately $1.3 billion in credits outstanding and obligated.
Mayor James says it could be productive to look for efficiencies in the program, but thinks it would be heavy handed to eliminate it.
“I don’t have a problem saying ‘OK, this is not working as well as it needs to’. But to simply say ‘Hey, we’ve zeroed it out and (you’re getting) no more giveaways’, that’s offensive and inappropriate, especially when you’re not offering any sort of an alternative.”
Another vote is needed on the housing tax credit to make any position official, and on is expected at the commission’s next meeting December 19th in Jefferson City.
The mayors meeting in Columbia also focused on strategies to fight crime and increase transportation funding. James says most everyone in local government knows the state is severely challenged to take care of roads and bridges.
“There’s not any money to do the things to take care of the infrastructure in this state that needs to be done,” James said. “And there’s no plan on the table at this moment that looks like it’s going to have a chance to succeed.”
According to James, the mayors are interested in exchanging thoughts with a legislative panel fronted by Republican state House member Kevin Corlew of Kansas City known as the 21st Century Transportation System Task Force. That group has been holding hearings across the state and will present recommendations to the full General Assembly in January.
James thinks the state has neglected to address problems with roads and bridges for far too long. “There’s been no real effective plan to address infrastructure in this state for probably a decade.”
Also during their meeting in Columbia, the mayors voted to form a non-profit 501(c)(6) organization called Missouri Mayors United for Progress. It’s initial Board of Directors includes James and mayors Tom Schneider of Florissant, James McGee of Venita Park, Karen Best of Branson and Garrett Elliott of Lohman.
Monday marked at least the fifth time to group has gathered, having met twice in Columbia as well as once in Jefferson City and Hermann. James says the meetings are arranged in the central part of the state to allow for easy travel from mayors all over Missouri.