State Senate leader Ron Richard has had a goal for the State Capitol for a long time and he’s hoping his last year in the legislature is the year that goal is reached. And it should be.
Richard loves the Capitol as the symbol of a state’s greatness and power, of its stability and beauty. But he has watched as the Capitol has deteriorated during his almost sixteen-year career and how appropriations that have finally started providing some rehabilitation of the now century-old building are not nearly enough to get the job done.
He has seen the state struggle with meeting its budgetary responsibilities for education, health and mental health, social services—you name it. And as the state has struggled to meet those responsibilities, the state’s greatest symbol has deteriorated.
Millions are being spent as a continuation of exterior restoration that has been underway for about three years. Some critical problems in the basement have been attacked. But millions of dollars more are needed to do what needs to be done now and to meet the costs of ongoing expenses later.
Richard has been hoping to get a bill passed setting up a tax credit program that would encourage people and organizations to donate money to fix our Capitol. He is the sponsor of one of two bills in the Missouri Senate addressing the problem. While he could be putting the muscle of his position behind his own legislation he has decided to let Senator Dan Hegeman from the northwest Missouri community of Cosby carry the issue. The bill already is out of committee and is ready for Senate debate. It started the week twenty-seventh on the debate list, a good position for early approval.
It’s Senate Bill 590 for those of you who keep score. It does two things. It creates tax credits for people who donate to restoration and repair work at the Capitol complex, and it creates tax credits for those who want to contribute to restoration and repair work on other public buildings.
A lot of deep-pocket people and companies have representatives in the capitol hallways every day that Richard, Hegeman, and their colleagues on both side of the rotunda are meeting. It would not be surprising if those hallway denizens carried word back to their employers that their workplace needs some help. Some of the money raised can be used to increase general public awareness of the need for donations for which private citizen-donors would get credit on their state taxes.
Richard has several times shared this dream with your correspondent and it’s time the dream comes true. Richard already has created a legacy as the only person in the almost-two century history of the state to serve as the leader of the House and the leader of the Senate. But that accomplishment is more a legislative distinction. Leaving behind a program that can raise money for the capitol’s upkeep is the more important thing. It could be a legacy.
But times have changed a little since Ron Richard first established this goal. Historic Tax Credits are not as popular as they once were. The legislature established caps on those tax credits a few years ago—no more than an aggregate total of $140 million. That cap drops to seventy-million dollars on July 1. Local historic preservation organizations can point to buildings and districts in their communities that have benefitted from those tax credits. Now, as the cap is cut in half, there could be two new causes trying to attract tax credit seekers.
Historic preservation tax credits aren’t very sexy. Some lawmakers question whether they create enough new jobs to justify the reduction in state revenue that they produce. Others with little interest in history might see little value in them to begin with.
But they ARE important. They’re important for the towns where we live because they encourage us to think of how far we have come while making sites usable, even inhabitable. They’re important for our capitol, a place intended to inspire those who visit and who serve there. The fact that some who visit and who serve do not find the intended inspiration cannot be an excuse to let our capitol decline into a symbol of decisions not made, responsibilities not met, and needs not acknowledged.
Our capitol is better than that. And the Richards dream and the Hegeman legislation is the best chance for our lawmakers to prove it so. We hope they don’t miss the chance this year.