JEFFERSON CITY — A key piece of Gov. Mike Parson’s economic agenda this year was the creation of a special fund designed to lure companies to open or expand their operations in Missouri.
But, rather than handing the task of assessing how those millions of dollars might be distributed to experts on the state payroll, the Republican governor’s administration plans to farm out the job to a private firm.
On Nov. 4, the lead agency in Parson’s push to create jobs issued a request for companies to submit proposals to develop an evaluation tool for the program that will help officials assess whether state aid is needed.
The extra cost to taxpayers remains secret.
“I’d rather not influence the bids by putting a number out,” said Maggie Kost, communications chief for the Department of Economic Development (DED).
The request lays out a four-month process for the work to be completed, meaning it could be March before any money from Parson’s proposal is awarded to companies.
Outsourcing key tasks to private companies was never discussed when the Republican chief executive and the DED pitched the fund to skeptical lawmakers.
And there is no mention of the plan on a fiscal analysis provided to lawmakers before they voted for the legislation.
Kost told the Post-Dispatch that outsourcing the work was the plan all along.
“Yes, we considered this early on,” she said.
The so-called “deal closing fund” is designed to give Missouri a negotiating tool to strike agreements with companies by granting tax credits earlier in a business expansion. Tax credits can be issued in the initial year, when the company needs to offset startup costs.
Currently, companies typically must hit jobs and capital investment goals to receive state assistance.
Although the proposal received bipartisan support, critics of the legislation included a cadre of St. Charles County Republicans.
During a lengthy filibuster over the governor’s economic development package, Republican Sens. Bill Eigel of Weldon Spring and Bob Onder of Lake Saint Louis repeatedly called the program a “slush fund” and said the tax incentives were “corporate welfare.”
After 27 hours, members of the Senate’s conservative bloc ended their filibuster without winning any concessions.
Part of Parson’s revamp of state government also included making DED smaller.
An estimated 597 DED employees were divided among the Department of Higher Education, the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration.
Fifteen other employees now work from the lieutenant governor’s office, while 73 vacant positions were eliminated.
The decreased number of employees was not mentioned as a factor in the decision to hire a contractor.
Rather, Kost said plans to outsource the work are similar to other programs in which the department seeks vendors, rather than relying on existing employees.
“Our reasoning isn’t different from any other time DED or any organization would bring in an outside vendor — they add perspective, capacity and skills to the project,” she said.