By Eli Yokley
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. —
With a vote in the Missouri House of Representatives last week, the first bill of the session was sent to the governor’s desk. Missouri legislators on Wednesday approved a new set of tax incentives they hope will lure amateur sporting events to the state.
The director of the Joplin Sports Authority testified earlier this year in favor of the bill, and most Southwest Missouri legislators favored it, but one of them — Bill White, R-Joplin — opposed it, arguing that it’s a tool that will almost exclusively benefit Kansas City and St. Louis.
The legislation would provide up to $3 million a year in state subsidies for cities, counties and nonprofit organizations such as the Joplin Sports Authority to attract everything from baseball and basketball tournaments to Olympic trials.
Under the bill, local governments or nonprofit organizations can receive state tax credits equal to the full cost of hosting an event or $5 for every ticket sold, whichever is less. The state tax credits could be sold, allowing recipients to convert them to cash to offset part of their costs for such things as renting ball fields and providing security and transportation for athletes, officials, media and others involved in the event.
Although the state has been successful in luring some major amateur events, including the Big 12 Conference men’s basketball tournament in Kansas City, the Missouri Valley Conference men’s and women’s basketball tournament and early-round games of the upcoming NCAA tournament, supporters of the legislation said Missouri also recently lost bids to be the host for future events to other states that offered incentives.
The St. Louis Sports Commission, meanwhile, has bids pending to hold the Olympic swimming trials in 2016 and the Southeastern Conference men’s basketball tournament in 2017 or 2018. In recent years, St. Louis has lost bids to hold the NCAA championships for wrestling and men’s basketball to other cities that offered public incentives, said Marc Schreiber, vice president of marketing and development for the St. Louis Sports Commission.
Joplin Sports Authority director Craig Hull joined nearly a dozen other sporting organizations in Jefferson City in January to lobby lawmakers on behalf of the bill. The Joplin Sports Authority is currently funded by a group of donors and a portion of the city’s motel tax. Additional funding, Hull said, would help the city attract more events, such as the NCAA Division II cross country championship.
“We’re very pleased that it has got through,” Hull said. “Hopefully, it will help us to secure more events to Joplin.”
Hull, as well as Jim Frazier, a member of the Joplin Sports Authority board, were invited to Jefferson City by Speaker of the House Tim Jones, R-Eureka, to watch the final vote.
State Rep. Charlie Davis, R-Webb City, joined most of the Joplin delegation in support of the bill, in part because of his belief in the bill’s potential to boost economic activity in the Joplin area, which is competing with border states for economic development.
“In an era where we see huge amateur sporting events draw thousands and thousands of onlookers and participants, it is time for Missouri to ‘step up to the plate’ and support these events,” Davis said in a statement. “These events, even though they cost money, bring in a lot of tax revenue for the state, but also boost the economy in the areas that hold the events.”
Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, said the fact that Missouri cities already are holding college conference basketball tournaments and other sporting events this year undercuts the argument that state incentives are needed.
“They’ve been doing this for years without the incentives, so I just don’t see what else the new draw is going to be,” Hinson said after he voted against the bill.
White said, “Overall, I am not a real big fan of tax credits. Most of them don’t work well.”
He also said there are no provisions, or “carve-outs,” so smaller cities and rural areas can be assured of some of the money.
“I believe it’s a Kansas City and St. Louis tax credit,” he said Friday. “If we were to ever get any part of that I would be shocked.”
A similar bill was introduced during the last session of the General Assembly, but failed to receive enough support to pass both chambers. But with a push in the Senate by Majority Floor Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin, and support in the House by Jones the legislation was pushed forward before the legislature adjourned Thursday for spring break.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has not said whether he supports the legislation, though he has touted his willingness to work with Republicans on economic development issues.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Missouri house vote
The Missouri House of Representatives passed the tax credits for amateur sporting events 127-29 Wednesday after no one spoke in opposition to it. Supporters included Republicans Charlie Davis, Webb City; Tom Flanigan, Carthage; Mike Kelley, Lamar; Bill Lant, Joplin; and Bill Rieboldt, Neosho.
Republicans Bill White, Joplin, and Scott Fitzpatrick, Shell Knob, voted “no.”