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No relief in sight for Missouri economy

December 11, 2002
By: Amy Menefee
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's economy -- already lagging behind other states -- will continue to plunge into the forseeable future, state officials said Wednesday.

Job loss is more stagnant now than in past recessions, Economic Development Director Joseph Driskill said.

"In almost every sector of employment in the state, we've seen a downturn," Driskill said.

And he said there's no end in sight.

"Any recovery will likely have trouble getting established," Driskill said. "Many people will be out of jobs. Businesses will have trouble growing."

Manufacturing jobs, which Driskill said make up about 14 percent of Missouri employment, topped the list of concerns. Job loss in this sector of the economy is keeping Missouri behind other states, he said. Just in the last two months, he estimated 5,800 manufacturing jobs lost here.

Nationally, manufacturing employment decreased by 4 percent from October 2001 to October 2002. In Missouri, that drop was 8.5 percent between March 2001 and October 2002.

Gary Marble, president of Associated Industries of Missouri, said the state must pinpoint policies that are holding Missouri back. He said personal and corporate income taxes could use a review.

"Give people back more of their money," Marble said. "If an employer's able to retain more of its money, it can hire more workers. It's not rocket science."

Marble said he was concerned about Gov. Bob Holden's budget recommendation -- changes to the tax structure that would net $100 million in corporate taxes.

"The only recommendation I have heard from this administration is that corporations should pay more," Marble said. "If corporations pay more, then more jobs will be lost."

Missouri has lost more than 77,000 jobs during the current 19-month recession, according to the Department of Economic Development.

Dan Mehan, president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, said this report was "alarming."

"We're still leading the nation in job loss, and we've got to do something about that," Mehan said. He said Missouri needs an "equitable tax structure that supports employers," and he said Holden's plan would not do that.

"They're going to saddle the revenue requirements of the state on the backs of employers who are trying to create jobs," Mehan said.

Driskill and Revenue Director Carol Fischer said they were unsure of the economic impact of Holden's yet-to-be-unveiled plan, which calls for the elimination of some tax breaks for businesses. Driskill maintained that this plan would only affect about 2 percent of Missouri businesses, a figure Holden has cited. However, Driskill also said he did not rule out the use of tax incentives to boost business growth.

Fischer bemoaned declines in tax revenues across the board, from sales taxes to personal and corporate income taxes.

"Some days, when I look at the general revenue report, it keeps me up at night," Fischer said. She added that the daily report fluctuates too much to provide a forecast, however.

Driskill agreed that no forecast is possible except to say the state is in trouble.

"Has the recession ended in Missouri?" he said. "The answer is no."