Driskill still defends the R&D program because, he says, "it's an incentive to perform incrementally larger research efforts in Missouri rather than somewhere else." He adds that it is only available to companies that increase their research and only offsets part of the cost of that spending.

Fleming is just as enthusiastic, arguing that "the stimulation of research and development by the Monsantos and Boeings of the world leads very directly to the setup of these smaller entrepreneurial companies. The large and small companies share common interests here."

Well, pardon my free-market capitalism, but why are the taxpayers of Missouri or other states subsidizing research costs that are an integral part of any high-tech company's budget? Are the Monsantos and Boeings willing to donate stock to the government in return?

Here's a telling statistic: In fiscal year 1998, Missouri handed out $16.8 million in "Qualified Research Tax Credits" (a.k.a. corporate welfare) to 63 companies. But just three of those companies -- Monsanto, Texas-based Southwestern Bell and now-Washington-based McDonnell Douglas -- received a staggering 69 percent of that total.

Yes, three of the nation's largest companies paid $11.46 million less than what they legitimately owed in Missouri state taxes last year because Missouri was so grateful that they conducted additional research here. And that doesn't count the $25 million the state chipped in, quite gleefully, to help Monsanto and its partners in the Danforth Plant Science Center.

But don't blame the companies: They don't pass the legislation; they just enjoy the welfare handouts. And who knows -- now that there's "early-stage capital" funds available for baby businesses, they'll probably be knocking on Joe Driskill's door again.

In diapers.

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