School district, library back 75% tax break

COLUMBIA, Mo 7/9/15 (Beat Byte) -- Columbia School Board Member Paul Cushing, who  frequently votes for and supports property tax increases, has come out in favor of a whopping 75% property tax break over 10 years for Kraft Foods. 

Local property taxes are the #1 source of school district funding. 

It's another case of lower taxes for billionaire business owners and higher taxes for everyone else, this time with a twist:  Kraft wants the incentives not to increase but to decrease jobs by 30% at its Waco Road facility in Columbia.       

Both the School and Library Boards have reportedly signed off on the big break, despite rising bond debt connected with several new schools.   The school district plans to raise property taxes over the next few years, and stagnant teacher pay remains a contentious issue.  

Cushing posted his supportive comment on the Trib board on a story about the tax incentive, which Kraft seeks to reportedly "modernize" its facility.   Boone County collects property taxes on land and business equipment.  

"If we denied the abatement, we could lose all the jobs along with the real and personal property taxes," Cushing said.  "The plant is 40 years old and there are other locations that could accommodate the expansion." 

Against the two-time Board Member's record, Cushing's comments are surprising.   During his campaigns for the School Board seat, he has urged constituents to support higher property taxes.   One of his Board priorities was to "work with lawmakers and developers to find ways to make new residential development pay for new schools," his campaign website explains.  

As a School Board Member, Cushing has repeatedly voted in favor of both levy increases and bond debt.


Purchased in March by Heinz Foods -- the company behind the wealth of billionaire heiress Teresa Heinz Kerry -- Brazilian private equity firm 3G Capital, and Warren Buffett, the world's second richest man -- Kraft actually plans to decrease employment at the plant, making their 75%/10 year tax abatement a perverse sort of incentive.

Call it a "reverse jobs program."

"The increased efficiency from the improvements would reduce employment from about 500 full-time-equivalent positions now to about 350," Dave Griggs, who chairs the Regional Economic Development Inc. Incentive Subcommittee, told the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Cushing, meanwhile, sees the job loss as inevitable

"The plant needs to be modernized in order to compete with other manufacturers," he said on the Trib board.  "Some of that modernization comes with automation."

Kraft proposes spending $113,800,000 for a 25,000-square-foot expansion its plant.  But given the secrecy and failed commitments of tax incentive recipient IBM, those numbers will be hard if not impossible to verify or require.  Kraft officials already declined to speak with reporters.