Last month, State Senator Brad Lager introduced an amendment to an economic development bill that would cap the Missouri historic rehabilitation tax credit at $75 million. Lager and his allies have mired efforts to pass the bill with the cap, gaining some support for the basic idea. However, the cap needs to be stopped.
Lager thinks that the tax credit is an "entitlement" to wealthy developers in St. Louis and Kansas City. Lager's ally Senator Matt Bartle called beneficiaries of the historic rehab tax credit "tall hogs" who don't like to share at the trough. Strange then that the cap proposed by these legislators would actually be the biggest advantage the "tall hogs" would ever get.
Last year, 45% of the nearly $170 million in historic tax credits issued in Missouri went to projects costing less than $500,000. That is $76.5 million -- already more than the cap. This figure includes the work of families improving their historic homes, small business owners renovating storefront buildings and other individuals who make for rather small hogs.
Currently, all someone needs to do to get the credit is to finish a project and apply. Under a cap, even without an appropriations process, there will be a limit. Scarcity spurs competition -- the lower the cap, the more fierce it will be. Who wins under that scenario? The tall hogs have the lobbyists, attorneys and access to power to continue to get the credits. The shopkeeper in Excelsior Springs and the homeowner near O'Fallon Park do not - and will not if the credit is capped.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Michael Allen is an architectural historian and historic preservation consultant working in private practice. Most recently he served as the Assistant Director of Landmarks Association of St. Louis, the region's historic preservation advocacy organization. He is also editor of Ecology of Absence, a website with accompanying blog that documents and analyzes changes in the built environments of St. Louis, Chicago and other Midwestern cities. His articles on architecture and policy have appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis Beacon, St. Louis American, Arch City Chronicle and Omnitectural Forum. In addition to his professional work, Allen has been rehabilitating a house in the city's Old North St. Louis neighborhood for the past two years.