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State senator pokes a pin into the China hub bubble

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 5, 2011 - State Sen. Jason Crowell was arguably the legislative "fly in the ointment'' who last session blocked a masssive economic development bill out of concern that it didn't do enough to rein in the state's tax credit programs, which the Cape Girardeau Republican believes are out of control.

In a newsletter sent out today to constituents, Crowell lays out his opposition to some provisions in the latest version of the economic development bill expected to be considered during the General Assembly's September special session.

Crowell said he fears the proposal is too generous with taxpayer money and too stingy with oversight.

He contends that the China hub plan, for example, gives too much power to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley to decide who gets the project's tax breaks.

Overall, Crowell calls the economic-development package announced a few weeks ago "a non-transparent 'inside job,' which is now being pushed to be passed in a special session. This backroom deal must not be allowed to pass."

Crowell added, "There is a path to do right by the Missouri taxpayer, but it will take you demanding that Jefferson City politicians put you first instead of their fat cat campaign donors."

Crowell's latest newsletter is the first in what he says will be a series closely scrutinizing various aspects of the proposed package.

Today's first target is the proposal to grant up to $360 million in state tax credits to persuade China to locate a cargo hub at Lambert St. Louis International Airport. Advocates have dubbed the plan "Aerotropolis," referring to the vision of an international trade zone of warehouses and related development surrounding the airport.

He asserts that the proposal's requirement that "warehouses must be built on 100 contiguous acres of land or in specially designated areas means that only a select few developers who donate massive amounts to politicians could qualify for these tax credits."

Crowell says the provisions now give Slay and Dooley, both Democrats, "the power to be the gatekeeper to these state tax credits." The senator contended that some additional oversight should be required.

Unless the proper protections are in place, Crowell contended, the China hub plan could be "a taxpayer funded 'Air Bridge to Nowhere' boondoggle."

The plan is arguably the St. Louis region's biggest bipartisan economic-development proposal, with Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, its key legislative booster.

Crowell's concerns signal that he may be preparing to be the key legislative roadblock in September.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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