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Money Swap to Revive Lambert Cargo Hub Raises Eyebrows

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ST. LOUIS–(KMOX)–A revenue swap involving state taxpayer money — and Lemay casino tax money — to revive dreams of a cargo hub at Lambert Airport is raising concerns.

“There are lots of things that are legal that are simply bad policy,” said Policy Analyst Patrick Ishmael with the Show-Me Institute, a free-market think tank.

The plan — given first-round approval this week in the St. Louis County Council — would allow the county to accept $3 million in state funds to help Lemay.  In exchange, the county would divert $3 million in River City Casino tax revenues that would have gone to Lemay and spend it instead on the Lambert cargo hub project.

“If this is such a great project, why haven’t private companies and privates investors stepped up and made this happen without government assistance?” Ishmael said.

County Councilman Steve Stenger, whose district includes Lemay, voted for the measure with assurances from the Dooley Adminstration that it’s legal and proper.img 45001 Money Swap to Revive Lambert Cargo Hub Raises Eyebrows

“Lemay is still going to get its three million dollars,” Stenger said, “It’s just going to come from a different source.”

Under the plan, the $3 million set aside for the cargo hub would be used to offset the cost of international cargo flights that land at Lambert — at a rate of about 30 cents a kilo.

“The fund would only be used on flights that actually occurred,” Stenger said.

Even though he voted to receive the state funds for Lemay that sets up the revenue swap, Stenger has doubts about what will happen to cargo flights after the incentive money runs out.

“What’s going to keep them coming back? And that’s my main question here,” Stenger said.

The Show-Me Institute also questions whether state and county backers have made an end-run around the legislature, which has failed for months to pass a tax break package to set up a cargo hub here.

“Supporters tried the democratic process last year,” Ishmael said, “And now they’re grasping at straws and onto Plan-B. It’s unfortunate they’ve gone this route, but they really want to get at the taxpayer’s pocketbook, and this is their next best hope.”

Backers of the plan defended the revenue swap in a press release from the St. Louis County Economic Council.

“This is a new life for a project that is vital to the success of our region and the state as a whole,” said St. Louis County Economic Council President and CEO Denny Coleman

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce is also quoted as supporting the revenue swap.

“This is a lifeline for the team working to jumpstart the cargo routes at Lambert Airport,” said Chamber President Dan Mehan, “Speaking in my role as head of the Missouri Chamber, I can tell you businesses across this state need the cargo hub project to succeed.”

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