JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — In the debate over Missouri tax incentives for the Ford Motor Co., proponents are full of facts, figures and predictions of limitless possibilities.
But they promise nothing.
The 10-year, $150 million tax break now before the Missouri legislature comes with no guarantees that, even if it passes, Ford would actually take advantage of it and upgrade the Claycomo assembly plant.
It contains no guarantee that the Kansas City-area plant's 3,900-strong work force would remain intact, no guarantee that a cutting-edge production line would be installed and no guarantee of steady business for parts suppliers across the state.
Lawmakers and Gov. Jay Nixon — who called a special legislative session last month to push the incentives through — know this and readily acknowledge it.
"At the end of the day, all of us here know there are no guarantees in life and no silver bullets," Rep. Jerry Nolte, a Gladstone Republican whose district includes the Claycomo plant, told a Senate committee last Wednesday.
But lawmakers, union leaders and Kansas City-area economic development officials argue that if the benefits of the incentives are uncertain, the alternative is not. Without a competitive package, the Claycomo plant's long-term viability would be threatened as soon as the Escape SUV goes offline late next year.
"We need to give these businesses a reason to stay in our state," Nolte said. "We are facing the fiercest competition we've ever faced in our history."
It's not just Claycomo's 3,900 hourly and salaried workers who would be affected. UAW Local 710 represents about 800 employees who work in plants that supply parts to Ford, including one in Columbia, said Rick Klingenberg, a union vice president.
"The sad reality is that to be competitive with other states, we need help. Otherwise, these companies will find other places to build their products," Klingenberg said
Supporters maintain that the package ensures a level playing field in the high-stakes game of economic development. States such as Michigan and Ohio are offering huge incentives for Ford to invest there, and Missouri must match them for a chance at winning.
"We know that several other states are in competition with Missouri for not only current automotive jobs but also for new product lines," said Scott Holste, a Nixon spokesman. "…We need to present the strongest possible package."
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