Testimony before the Mississippi River Commission

August 11, 2016AdminNews and Events


GRHA Open Letters to Missouri’s Congressional Delegation in Support of Lowering Improper Illinois Levees


Resolution 16-01

Sponsored by: Council as a Whole Resolution No. 16-01

A RESOLUTION OPPOSING REDEVELOPMENT OF THE MARYLAND PARK LAKE DISTRICT IN THE CITY OF MARYLAND HEIGHTS WHEREAS St. Charles County and St. Louis County sit at the confluence of the country’s two great rivers, the Missouri River and the Mississippi River, and the St. Charles County Council wants to protect the beauty of this unique area; and WHEREAS, the residents of St. Charles County recently witnessed major flooding in the area when water levels of the two rivers and tributaries thereto raised faster and higher than previous floods, and civic leaders are being urged to avoid putting homes and other development in flood-prone areas or continuing a pattern of development that can be expected to divert flood waters onto other areas; and WHEREAS, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently changed its maps which put homes and business in the flood plain that were previously not in the flood plain; and WHEREAS, the City of Maryland Heights, as contemplated in Resolution No. 2016- 1198 passed by its City Council and approved by its Mayor on February 4, 2016, is seeking proposals to develop 1,800 acres of flood plain along the Missouri River; and WHEREAS, the St. Charles County Council opposes any proposal to develop flood plain in an area that will most likely flood again. NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE COUNTY COUNCIL OF ST. CHARLES COUNTY, MISSOURI, AS FOLLOWS: Section 1. The St. Charles County Council hereby opposes any proposal to develop in flood-prone areas or continuing a pattern of development that can be expected to divert flood waters onto other areas, which includes the present proposal for redevelopment of the Maryland Park Lake District in the City of Maryland Heights. 16-01 Section 2. The Executive Assistant to the County Council is hereby directed to forward a copy of this resolution to the City of Maryland Heights to notify them of St. Charles County’s opposition to said proposed development.

___________________________________             __________________________________
DATE PASSED                                                                   CHAIR OF THE COUNCIL


February 12, 2016AdminNews and Events




 By David Stokes

 Testimony before the Missouri House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee

To the Honorable Members of this Committee:

 Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is David Stokes. I am the incoming executive director of the Great Rivers Habitat Alliance, a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to preserving Missouri floodplains and wetlands for recreation, agriculture, and hunting.  The ideas presented here are my own. This testimony is intended to state my opinion about the proposal in this bill regarding limitations on the allowed expenditures within Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts based on research that I have conducted and reviewed over the past decade.

Missouri needs TIF reform. We need TIF reform for economic and environmental reasons. Our state just witnessed the severe floods of late December, and I believe that subsidized development in the floodplains over the past three decades has contributed to increasing the severity, frequency, and danger of flooding.

House Bill 1434 is a fair and beneficial compromise on the subject of TIF. The combination of a very large number of local governments and the inclusion of sales taxation in Missouri TIF law has been a dangerous mixture. By one measure, Missouri local governments use TIF more than all but two other states.[1]  Missouri’s many cities have readily engaged TIF in order to increase the sales taxes they collect. This leaves other taxing districts, such as school districts — which depend more on property taxation — holding the empty bag. Originally intended as a remedy for “blight,” TIF has been aggressively used throughout Missouri’s wealthier areas. HB 1434 addresses this concern, in part, by limiting the use of TIF in projects where a city goes forward without county TIF commission approval. The Bill will limit the use of TIF in such projects by looking at cost factors that directly address the condition of the property: demolition, clearing, and grading to determine the extent to which TIF may be authorized.

In general, TIF has not been beneficial to Missouri. An East-West Gateway Council of Governments study in Saint Louis concluded that TIFs and Transportation Development Districts (TDDs) have created jobs at the rate of one retail job for every $370,000 in taxpayer subsidies.[2] That is not a road to successful, long-term economic growth.

That is not the only study that has found that TIF fails at job creation and economic development. A study of the use of TIF in Iowa concluded that, “On net (…) there is no evidence of economy-wide benefits (trade, all non-farm jobs) fiscal benefits, or population gains.”[3]  Another study from Illinois found that economic growth was stronger in cities that did NOT use TIF than in cities that did use TIF.[4]

House Bill 1434 limits the expenditure of TIF funds to the amount required to return the property to “greenfield” status for certain projects where local governments are in disagreement about the value of subsidies. . The bill would continue to allow cities to override a county commission’s rejection of a TIF upon a supermajority vote of the city council. However, in those cases, the TIF funds would be limited to the demolition of buildings and the re-grading of land. These are very reasonable changes. This bill would continue to allow TIF to be implemented in blighted redevelopment areas where the infrastructure is substantially degraded. It would not eliminate any one project. It would not favor union companies or non-union companies. However, it would place reasonable limits on the expansion of TIF in the greater Saint Louis area, and that would benefit Missouri.

More reforms are needed, including eliminating TIF usage and other subsidies in the floodplain. Over the past decade, the Missouri General Assembly has taken several key steps to preserve the state’s instrumental flood plains from subsidized development. In 2003, Saint Charles County was given a special exemption that disallowed the use of TIF in the flood plain within that county.[5] In 2007, many other parts of Missouri were added to the preservation list as part of the Hunting Heritage Protection Areas Act, which limited the use of TIF within the 100-year flood plain in Missouri, with some exclusions.[6]

But TIF alone is not the issue in this instance. There is, more generally, a concern with subsidizing development in our flood plains. As a state famously defined by its rivers, Missouri should preserve its water resources and heritage. One of the best ways to do that is to ensure that we are not subsidizing developments within the floodplain. Those subsidies lead to an absurd circle where taxpayers subsidize development within areas where there is a predictable chance the development will have to be subsidized again after it is be damaged by a future flood.

Approximately 9 percent of Missouri is within a flood plain.[7] That is a significant total, and Missouri has more flood plains than other states. Nobody knows what the proper amount of development within the flood plains is. After seeing the recent, major flooding in Missouri, I think many would argue it should be zero. Whatever it is, by definition, when you subsidize something you get more of it than normal market forces would produce. While there are certain examples, such as public safety, where subsidies are reasonably desired in order to increase the level or amount, I do not believe flood plain development is one of those items.

Missouri should preserve our river areas and flood plains for recreation, hunting, environmental benefits, fish, wildlife, and plant preservation, and other important reasons. One effective way to help do that is to limit subsidies within those areas.

David Stokes is the incoming executive director of Great Rivers Habitat Alliance.


[1] That measure is TIF bond sales by state, 2005 to 2010. Reported by O’Toole, Randal. “Crony Capitalism and Social Engineering: The Case Against TIF.” Cato Institute Policy Study No. 676, May 2011, page 12.

[2] East-West Gateway Council of Governments. “An Assessment of the Effectiveness and Fiscal Impact of the Use of Local Development Incentives in the St. Louis Region.” Final Report, January 2011, page 18.

[3] Swenson, David, and Liesl Easthington. “Do Tax Increment Finance Districts in Iowa Spur Regional Economic and Demographic Growth?” Department of Economics, Iowa State University, April 2002, page 11.

[4] Dye, Richard, and David Merriman. “The Effects of Tax Increment Financing on Economic Development.” Journal of Urban Economics, Volume 47, Issue 2, March 2000: pages 306-328.

[5] RSMo 99.847.

[6] RSMo 252.243 The primary exclusion was that TIF could still be used within the flood plain in any urban area, defined as having more than 50,000 people and categorized by the US Census as an “urbanized” area. There were additional exclusions as well.

[7] Shipley, Sarah “A Flood Of Development: Unprecedented Growth In The Flood Plain Brings Riches And Risks” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 28, 2003. Missouri has 6,400 square miles of flood plain out of a total of 67,900 square miles.

Misguided plan for New Madrid Levee is back again

September 23, 2013AdminNews and Events

Why should political pressure trump common sense? It’s hard to understand how a misguided levee project in Missouri’s Bootheel, estimated to cost taxpayers upward of $165 million, can be resurrected for a seventh attempt since 1954.

A small but politically influential group of landowners (one a New Madrid businessman who has been a member of the highly influential Mississippi River Commission for over 30 years) is insisting the Army Corps of Engineers close off the last remaining natural floodplain on the Mississippi River in Missouri. This proposed levee would benefit the group’s personal agricultural and economic interests despite a questionable cost/benefit ratio.

These landowners, who control a significant portion of the land in the area’s floodplain, want Washington to spend federal tax dollars to stimulate economic activity in a zone already designated as a “floodway” during high-water events. It should come as no surprise the proponents are putting up none of their own cash in a brazen effort to increase their own land values. With backing from congressional representatives, they are demanding $165 million to prevent “too much flooding” in a designated floodway.

These landowners have conveniently forgotten Washington purchased easements for the New Madrid Floodway as compensation for flooding. These easements came with the understanding that the government has the right to flood this area when necessary, such as in 2011 to save Cairo, Ill.

As recently as 2007, the Army Corps of Engineers, along with these same local supporters, attempted to construct the levee project, totally disregarding significant negative economic and environmental impacts. U.S. District Judge James Robertson found the corps had deliberately provided inaccurate environmental impact numbers in a “malicious and capricious” manner to justify the levee. He demanded the corps dismantle the entire project. Astonishingly, this project is back on the table.

The New Madrid Levee is like a bad rash that keeps coming back. The Army Corps of Engineers has recently released its latest draft environmental impact statement in an effort to re-start this foolish project, only this time with the benefit of Sen. Roy Blunt’s political influence. Blunt has gone so far as to demand federal environmental agencies “make the numbers work” to support this levee.

Once again political pressure is attempting to trump common sense. Sooner or later the Army Corps of Engineers must realize when they build a levee to protect one area they are concurrently pushing that water somewhere else with greater force. When will the corps finally realize the cumulative impact of building levees? When will they agree with modern hydrologist and cease using their obsolete card table models?

The New Madrid Levee is not only a waste of taxpayer money; it’s a foolish idea. For once, let common sense trump political influence.

Adolphus A. Busch IV has been a staunch advocate of environmental issues. He is active with many wildlife and conservation organizations, including Ducks Unlimited, Great Rivers Habitat Alliance (founder and past chairman), The Wild Turkey Federation and Delta Waterfowl.

Proposed levee in Missouri’s boot heel could cost $165 million

September 23, 2013AdminNews and Events