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Opinion: Stop job killing legislation during this economic downturn

  

Given that Missouri has struggled for more than a decade to pull itself out of the Great Recession, state lawmakers should be championing programs that have proven to create jobs and generate economic activity. This need is now greater than ever as the COVID-19 pandemic has weakened our economy and thousands of small business owners in our state are struggling. Unfortunately, special interests in Jefferson City are proposing once again to gut a successful economic development program that has created thousands of jobs, boosts local economies, and helps home and business owners save money on their utility bills. Pushing job-killing state bureaucracy and needless regulations is always a bad idea — but what SB 105, HB 145, HB 697, and HB 814 propose to do during this recession is callous and completely tone deaf to the needs of hard-working Missourians today.

Caleb Arthur

The program, known as Property Assessed Clean Energy — or PACE financing — is a public-private partnership that helps make energy technology upgrades more accessible for property owners by reducing the out-of-pocket costs and high-upfront expense. The program has successfully made properties throughout Missouri more energy-efficient while putting people to work, saving folks on their utility bills, and supporting local small businesses. What is particularly noteworthy is that all of these benefits have been realized for our state without any increases in public spending.

In fact, PACE has created more than 2,500 jobs in Missouri, supporting jobs such as solar installers, electricians, heating and cooling technicians, carpenters, insulators, and others who help bring these projects to homes and businesses. Additionally, hundreds of local Missouri small businesses count on PACE to serve their customers and meet their bottom line.

With recent data showing that Missouri’s economic growth has lagged behind the rest of the country following the Great Recession, these types of programs that create jobs and stimulate the economy — at no cost to taxpayers — are essential. Missouri’s annual growth rate in the period since the Great Recession was just 0.8 percent — compared to the national 2.3 percent growth rate. State lawmakers should be working to expand, not jeopardize, economic development initiatives such as PACE that can help reverse this trend.

Beyond the economic impact, PACE is generating significant environmental benefits for Missouri. Since the program’s inception in 2010, PACE-eligible projects such as solar, energy-efficient windows, and heating and cooling systems have reduced carbon pollution by an estimated 283,000 metric tons — equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions of more than 61,000 vehicles driven for a year. At the same time, PACE-eligible upgrades such as wind-resistant roofing can help property owners withstand the brunt of tornadoes, which Missourians know far too well can result in devastating impacts.

Despite these benefits, Missouri is barely scratching the surface of what a more robust PACE program can do to strengthen both our economy and properties throughout the state.

For instance, lawmakers can add flood-mitigation upgrades to the list of PACE-eligible projects. Making flood protection upgrades affordable for more homeowners is critical for a state that is susceptible to devastating spring flooding seasons that hurt hundreds of communities and cost billions of dollars in damages. In fact, expanding PACE has the potential to save Missourians an estimated $4 billion in avoided property damage and displacement costs if utilized in just 15 percent of the eligible buildings in the state.

PACE is not only helping Missouri home and business owners make much-needed property upgrades amid growing threats of extreme weather — it is also creating good local jobs and creating economic activity that is benefiting small businesses. And it does not cost taxpayers a dime. State legislators should reject any proposal that threatens PACE and the jobs and economic benefits it is bringing to communities across our state.