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Legislative Black Caucus Angry With Nixon Over Low-Income Housing Cuts

Jamilah Nasheed
Tim Bommel | Mo. House of Representatives
State Rep. Jamilah Nasheed (D, St. Louis) speaks on her bill to return control of the Metropolitan Police Department of St. Louis to the city.

The Missouri Legislative Black Caucus is seeking a meeting with Gov. Jay Nixon because of the group’s ire over an apparent deal to trim the state’s low-income tax credits that the governor struck in order to win General Assembly approval of a proposed tax-credit package to entice Boeing.

State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, made public late Tuesday a copy of a letter that she sent to Nixon on behalf of the caucus.

At issue are reports that the governor persuaded the Missouri Housing Development Commission to delay action on the proposed tax credits for low-income housing as part of an agreement with some Republican senators who have long wanted to cut the program. The governor hoped to avoid a filibuster over the Boeing proposal.

“We write to express our anger and disappointment with the deal your administration appears to have cut with a group of Republican senators to help the Boeing tax incentive bill pass last week,” the caucus letter said. “While some of us supported state assistance for Boeing Corp. to bring thousands of good paying jobs to our state, the deal you made with a small number of Republican senators to hold up needed low-income tax credits was unnecessary, and claims that cuts to other tax credits are needed to pay for the Boeing package are absolutely false.”

Tax credits for low-income housing and for historic preservation are Missouri’s two largest tax incentives – and long a target of Nixon and some legislators, who say the credits for those programs, in particular,  consume too much state revenue.

Efforts to trim both programs often have sparked spirited debates in the General Assembly; low-income housing backers say the credits are the best way to encourage the creation of much-needed housing in rural and urban parts of the state.  So far, the programs' allies have blocked substantial tax-credit cuts.

The caucus wrote that it was unfair to link the low-income housing aid to Boeing.  Missouri is among a number of states believed to be wooing Seattle-based Boeing in hopes of acquiring at least some of the production of the planned new commercial airliner, the 777x.

Nixon on Tuesday signed the tax-break proposal swiftly approved by the Missouri General Assembly during a special session last week. Missouri is offering $150 million a year in tax credits if Boeing brings at least 2,000 new jobs to the state over the next 10 years. Boeing already employs about 15,000 Missouri workers, most of them at its military-aircraft production complex near Lambert Field.

“Using Boeing as an excuse to cut low income tax credits is disingenuous at best,” the caucus wrote. “As your administration and others made abundantly clear, the Boeing incentives will come from new tax revenues generated by Boeing itself. There is no need at all to offset those incentives with cuts to other programs. This minority of Republican senators is simply using Boeing as leverage to carry out their war against the poor, disabled and elderly - a war your administration risks being on the wrong side of with this decision.”

Many of the legislators in the black caucus represent areas that seek low-income  housing. “We can assure you that all of us, and many other Missourians, will strongly oppose any effort to use the Boeing deal as an excuse to deprive needy senior citizens and low income Missourians of decent housing,” the caucus wrote. “As a first step and show of good faith to us, we ask that you redirect the Missouri Housing Development Commission to immediately adhere to standard practices regarding funding allocation, and immediately release the awards approved last week.”

The letter added, “We understand that your administration acted to mollify a small group of stubborn Republican senators who had threatened to hold up the Boeing incentive bill if they did not get their way. If that is what it takes to get this administration’s attention, then we respectfully request an emergency meeting with your administration to deal with this matter before our caucus is forced to follow the precedent set by your dealings with our Republican colleagues.”

So far, Nixon’s office has yet to publicly reply.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.