Politics

Nixon seeks moratorium in 'border war' with Kansas

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon called Tuesday for a moratorium on his state's ongoing tug-of-war with neighboring Kansas over efforts to lure companies across the border, arguing the Kansas City metro area would attract more jobs if the states work as partners rather than rivals.

In a speech to the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, Nixon said economic incentives should be used to attract new businesses to the area rather than simply relocating ones already there. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has suggested a similar pact, though no formal agreement has been reached.

"This problem — unique to this region — of taking jobs that already exist and treating them as if they're brand new, is the unintended consequence of incentive programs in both states, and all of us have a shared responsibility to fix it," Nixon said.

Nixon said the first step should be an immediate moratorium within the Kansas City metro area on the use of discretionary incentives where jobs are merely being moved across the state line. The next step, he said, is for he and Brownback to work with their respective legislatures to get a law passed making that moratorium permanent.

"The opportunities for this region are endless — but only if we stop this senseless incentive war, and start working together," he said. Brownback, a Republican, released a statement Tuesday thanking Missouri's Democratic governor for "joining this discussion."

"I have been open to resolving this issue for more than a year and in that time have engaged in active discussion with Governor Nixon," Brownback said. "We also have talked with members of the Missouri Legislature who are interested in putting an end to this 'war.'"

Missouri and Kansas have been waging an intense competition for businesses, committing more than $750 million in tax incentives and bonds in the past five years to get nearly 200 businesses to locate or expand in the Kansas City area alone, according to an analysis by The Associated Press published last year. Some of those businesses have merely shifted existing jobs a few miles across the border to new taxpayer-subsidized buildings.

Overall, there haven't been any real winners in the so-called border war, said Jim Heeter, president of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, who said the business community has been quietly working with politicians in both states to put an end to the cross-border battle.

"I think what Gov. Nixon shared with us today is an important step in the direction of ending the so-called border war," Heeter said. "We think that cooperation is there based upon what we've done in the past year."

But all the talk about cooperation is not necessarily Kumbaya and incense. Kansas state Rep. J.R. Clays, a Salina Republican, said on his official legislative Twitter account that Nixon's speech was akin to waving the white flag.

"Looks like Missouri is surrendering. Can't compete with Kansas for jobs. We'll continue to incentivize."

Associated Press writers David Lieb in Jefferson City, Mo., and John Hanna in Topeka, Kan., contributed to this report.

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