Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Claire’s Plane Problem

The previous plane problems of Sen. Claire McCaskill seemed to be noise.  Not that they weren’t serious.  I just figured that they would be distant memories by November 2012.  They were a little too complicated to be an easy TV commercial.  The attack would seem contrived and get lost in the election advertising ocean.


However yesterday’s revelation that the personal property taxes on the plane, amounting to nearly $300,000, weren’t paid is different.  You see how I wrote it in one sentence?  That’s the difference between a political nuisance and a political problem.


She’s doing everything right from a spin perspective, paying the taxes right away, selling the plane, trying to make it old news as fast as possible.  But now her opponents have a line of attack – questions about her husband’s businesses and a call for greater transparency. 


This was quickly seized upon by the ever over-reaching Ed Martin.


All is not doom for the senator though.  The road is still long and it includes a Republican primary which will take her off the firing range for a while at least.  And as much as this is a doozy, the real determinant in this race will likely be the political environment again. 


Therefore the movement in the unemployment rate and location of Barack Obama’s approval ratings are the best indicators to watch.



I Love the Hub

It’s said that the China Hub legislation, SB 390, is not critical to get flights from China.  That appears to be on its way, thanks to political greasing. 


SB 390 is necessary to move beyond a token two flights a week and establish a new trade route with true economic impact.


The price-tag is an eye-popper: $480 million.  However supporters say that if they actually hit those caps, the project would be such a transformative success that no one would back an eye at the “lost” revenue.


It breaks down like this:

$60 million in tax credits for “freight forwarders,” the middle-men in the supply chain who determine the best route by which goods travel.  The tax credit is based on the amount they ship.


$300 million in tax credits for construction of infrastructure.  The credits are paid after construction, and after there’s documentation that 60% of their activity is involved in importing and exporting traffic.


$120 million in tax credits for interest costs for the above construction, again paid after the facilities are up and running and showing their activity is related to trade.


The second and third components are the ones that would take the two flights a week and build it into twenty flights a week.  They would foster the creation of cold chain facilities so that agricultural products – fresh meat and frozen goods – could be shipped to China.   They would incent the assembling, manufacturing and warehouse facilities that would create the wherewithal for St. Louis to be used as an international trade hub.


They are also the tax credits that are receiving some skeptical scrutiny.  One knock in particular is that they might become yet another special tax credit for Paul McKee who hit a pot of gold with the Land Assemblage Tax Credit a few sessions ago.  He owns land by the airport.


And he indeed could win some more tax credits if he fulfills the development criteria. Still there’s no indication that these tax credits were carved out for him.  


The proposed economic development zone extends fifty miles outward from the airport.  That’s a lot of ground, far beyond McKee’s holdings.  And it’s actually comparable (and a little smaller) to the 60 mile-radius that’s proposed in the book Aerotropolis.


Having an expansive definition of the development zone accomplishes a few goals:  first, draws a larger portfolio of assets into the mix for development and re-development, including the old auto factory in Fenton.


But it also regionalizes the vision.  And in a region that has TIF-ed retailers back-and-forth without creating much new economic activity lately, that’s a welcome change.



The Lembke Barricade

Sen. Jim Lembke – along with Sens. Rob Schaaf, Brian Nieves and Will Kraus – are reportedly holding firm on their insistence that the federal unemployment benefits not reach Missourians in need.


I see three scenarios forming on the horizon.


First, what is thought to be the most likely, Pro Tem Rob Mayer offers some compromise – we get tough on Missouri budget, you let fed funds flow.  This may be behind his recent statements that the Senate will cut $500 million from the budget. 


The second scenario is that Floor Leader Tom Dempsey makes them stand for their stand and says “Okay boys enjoy your echo, I’ll be in my office for the next 72 hours. Filibuster away.  See you on Thursday.”  The downside is that you lose a week.  The upside is that folks back off the filibuster threat if they think their bluff may be called.


And the third scenario is that Lembke and his posse prevents the federal funds from reaching the unemployed.  Aside from the actual damage that does to hurting Missouri families, that’s bad news politically for the Senate.  It would probably anger the reasonable majority and create a real schism.



The irony here is that the usually “crazy” House passed both the unemployment benefits extension and the supplemental money for education by comfortable margins.  And they’re now being tied up in what is usually the more pragmatic Senate. 


One explanation: the influx of House member to the Senate whose legislative agenda hasn’t developed beyond the chest-thumping prized in the House jungle.



KC Mayoral Race

From Prime Buzz this morning, here are the bits on today’s KC mayoral (Read it Here):


They say look for 20% turnout, maybe lower.  Absentee results around 7:30pm, final results around 9:30pm.  No predictions…



Triumph of Education

Today’s “book review” is Triumph of the City.  It’s a ho-hum reminder about the strengths of urban areas.  No need to read it really, but if you must, you can find it here.


Two things I took from the book… First, on the heels of reading Aerotropolis was this paragraph:


“Nineteenth-century advances in waterborne commerce – the globalization of that era – sped the growth of cities like Detroit, New York, and Chicago. In 1861, it cost as much to ship goods thirty miles overland as it did for those goods to cross the Atlantic.  Because moving thirty miles away from the water would double the cost of getting good to and from the Old World, America’s population perched on the Eastern seaboard, clustered around ports from Boston to Savannah.”



Second, the use of a population’s educational attainment as a clear indicator of the health of its local economy.  From three different places in the book, were there three statistics…


“Only 22.5 percent of Palo Alto’s residents over the age of twenty-five lack a college degree.”


“Only 11 percent of Detroit’s residents have a college degree.”


Minneapolis… “The secret of the city’s success is education: 47.4 percent of the city’s adults have a college degree.”


26.8% of Missourians have a bachelor’s degree or higher.




From Combest comes this nice nugget from the Marshall Democrat-News… Becky Plattner is in for Lieutenant Governor.  She’s the former presiding commission of Saline County. She ran for LG in 2008, placing fourth in a six-way Democratic primary won by Sam Page.    Read it Here.



More money woes at MODOT.  They are looking to trim $300 million so they can free up money for federal match funds.  Read it Here.



At his spring-break news conference Speaker Steve Tilley touts the bi-partisan nature of the House, citing the fact that over 60% of minority bills have been referred, versus about 25% one years ago.  He also mentions letting the minority leader to appoint committee members, and the near-unanimous budget votes in the committee.



Tilley also says that he hasn’t developed a position on “right to work.”  If it comes to the House, he will sit in the committee hearing to form an opinion.



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Former state senator Yvonne Wilson turns 82.  And happy birthday to former state representatives Steve Hunter (62) and Paul LeVota (43).