Pop quiz. First, what does 1+1+1+1 equal? Second, what is 2,000 minus 90?
If you answered 4 and 1,910, congratulations, you’re as smart as a fourth grader. Unfortunately, you’d flunk in Gov. Nixon’s office, where the answers to simple math depend on who’s asking.
Not even a year ago, Gov. Nixon called the legislature into special session to rush through a $2.4 billion subsidy for Boeing’s production of the new 777x jet. In an unusual example of working with the legislature, Gov. Nixon drafted the bill for consideration, and his office remained heavily involved in the amendment process. The legislature moved with record speed, passing the bill in less than a week.
Current law caps the amount of “jobs tax credits” that the governor can award to businesses around the state — or at least the ones that are savvy enough to negotiate the tax credit process. At the time of the special session, Gov. Nixon had a problem. He was in the middle of negotiations for a massive subsidy to Cerner, which, if approved, would not have left enough room for a massive deal for the potential Boeing project. (In January 2014, Gov. Nixon announced a $1.4 billion subsidy for Cerner.)
For all the back-patting and self-congratulating, Senate Bill 1 from that quick special session really only did one thing – it placed an asterisk next to the 777x project or any other “aerospace project” that involved “the creation of at least two thousand new jobs within ten years” of approval by the Department of Economic Development for any proposal received before June 10, 2014. Under Senate Bill 1, the “aerospace project” tax credits would not count against the cap. To go back to the terms a fourth-grader can understand, the legislature agreed to let Gov. Nixon spend $2.4 billion of your money without using his allowance to do so.
Senate Bill 1 specifically defined “aerospace project.” First, it defined the eligible project as singular. It exempted any massive project from the cap, not a series of “projects.” Second, it required the massive project to involve the “creation of at least 2,000 jobs” within 10 years. Third, it set a short time-frame for proposals.
Fast-forward to October: Gov. Nixon announced Boeing would create 700 jobs in St. Louis to manufacture parts of the 777x wing. It’s just the latest in a series of new job announcements for Boeing in Missouri. In December 2013, it announced it would create 400 information technology jobs here. It followed that by announcing a project to add 400 research and technology jobs. In September of this year, it announced 500 new jobs to service and repair the F-22 fighter jet manufactured by Lockheed Martin.
A logical look at these proposals says it’s four separate projects involving distinct aspects of Boeing’s business. But Gov. Nixon doesn’t see it that way. For purposes of Boeing projects, 1+1+1+1 = 1. By using the magic calculator, Gov. Nixon avoid the caps.
This brand of math smacks of Bill Clinton’s infamous answer in a deposition regarding Monica Lewinsky, “it depends upon what the meaning of the word is is.” Gov. Nixon relies on two state statutes. Section 620.2005 defines a “project facility” under the Missouri Works program to include separate buildings used by a qualified company so long as they are located within 60 miles of each other. The recent Boeing proposals probably still don’t qualify. But there’s a trump card in Section 1.030 of Missouri law, which declares that, in Missouri statutes, any word in a statute “importing the singular number” applies to “several matters” as well. In other words, tack an “s” on to every statute that doesn’t have one.
Senate Bill 1′s second math question involves the number of jobs promised to be created. Piecing together 700 plus 400 plus 400 plus 500 does equal 2,000, but Boeing later announced it was laying off 90 workers in St. Louis. Suddenly, we’re back to 1,910 – if you’re using real-world math.
Gov. Nixon’s problems are beyond math. Senate Bill 1 exempts from the cap those projects “involving the creation of at least two thousand new jobs.” Sometimes to understand what a statute says, you must consider what it doesn’t say. Senate Bill 1 does not say “involving the promised creation.” Instead, it requires “the creation” of 2,000 jobs before a project is exempt from the cap. Has Boeing created 2,000 jobs? Or has it promised merely promised to create 1,910 jobs?
I can hear the response now, “But, but, but, that’s clearly not the intent of the legislation because that’s not how these programs work.” It wasn’t that long ago that Gov. Nixon was chastising the legislature for failing to draft bills precisely as they were intended. In 2013, a frustrated Gov. Nixon told reporters that legislators “ought to put their noses down and read the bills they’re passing.” Maybe Gov. Nixon should heed his own advice? Words have meaning. “The creation of” means jobs that have actually been created, not mere promises.
For Gov. Nixon, there’s a simple solution. Ask the legislature to exempt the various Boeing projects from the so-called jobs tax credits cap. Because the credits won’t start in earnest until next year, there’s still time to do this the right way. I would vote no because I don’t think removal of the cap is necessary for the Boeing jobs to be added in Missouri. Yet, I’m confident that the legislature would follow Gov. Nixon’s lead.
Unfortunately, I do not anticipate Gov. Nixon will follow a plain reading of the law on the Boeing subsidy. When he’s against a something, details matter and statutes are to be construed by their actual words. When he’s for something, who cares about details? With few to call him to task and a lawsuit unlikely or impossible, who’s to stop him?