Special session set for Sept. 6
Monday, August 22, 2011
Gov. Jay Nixon set an expansive agenda Monday for a special legislative session that could overhaul the state’s business incentives, push back its presidential primary and grant St. Louis direct control over its police force for the first time since the Civil War era.
But one prominent issue was left off the agenda — how to pay for state’s share of the billions of dollars of damage caused by a devastating tornado in Joplin, flooding along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and other severe storms that hit the state.
Although Nixon previously indicated that disaster aid would be included in a September special session, the governor said Monday that recovery efforts and damage assessments were not yet complete in Joplin, along the still-flooded Missouri River in northwest Missouri, in previously flooded areas in southeast Missouri and in tornado-damage zones in Sedalia and St. Louis County.
“Our commitment to the communities affected by tornadoes, floods and other disasters this year is clear: We will help you recover, and we will help you rebuild,” Nixon said in a written statement. But “before we can determine the best method to finance our recovery obligations, we must determine the full extent of the damage.”
He scheduled the special session to start Sept. 6. Under the state constitution, Missouri lawmakers can only consider items listed by the governor on the agenda for an extraordinary session. The session can last up to 60 days.
Nixon has said previously that he is committed to spending up to $150 million in disaster aid from excess state revenues and cuts to other government spending, such as aid to colleges and K-12 school busing. Some lawmakers have instead suggested the state should borrow money from its “rainy day fund,” which would require legislative approval and would have to be repaid over three years.
Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer said he had been under the impression that Nixon would include the disaster funding in the September session, though he said it may be possible to wait until lawmakers return for the annual regular session in January.
“I hoped that we could deal with it during special session because of the magnitude of the devastation and the need to expedite, as soon as we can, the rebuilding process,” said Mayer, R-Dexter. “We need to do what we can to restore Joplin.”
Nixon did not rule out the possibility of adding disaster aid to the special session. But that may be unlikely if he wants to first wait for damage assessments to be complete, because floodwaters along the Missouri River are not expected to recede that quickly.
The governor’s agenda for the proposed business incentives largely follows a plan laid out in July by Republican legislative leaders, with a couple of notable exceptions. Both the governor and legislative leaders want to create incentives for international cargo shippers at the St. Louis airport and for science and technology-based companies and computer data centers to locate in Missouri. Their package also includes new tax incentives for organizers of amateur sports events and for existing companies to stay in Missouri instead of moving to other states.
Although Nixon’s proclamation does not go into great detail, his special session agenda also includes an overhaul of existing tax credit programs that could lead to a reduction of tax breaks for developers of low-income housing and the renovation of historic buildings. Also axed could be a longtime state income tax break for low-income seniors and disable residents who live in rented homes, though the tax break would continue for those owning their homes.
The governor’s agenda includes the creation of a “closing fund” to offer upfront cash to businesses looking to locate in Missouri — something that was not included in the legislative proposal. Nixon’s agenda also excludes an expansion of the time period for which a north St. Louis developer can claim tax credits for assembling large tracts of land — something which lawmakers had included in their package.
Mayer said Nixon’s differences on the special session agenda could make the legislation more difficult to pass, but he remained optimistic.
Nixon included another item sought by legislators —the ability of St. Louis officials to directly control their police department. The department currently is overseen by a board consisting of four gubernatorial appointees and the mayor, a structure established in 1861.
Also on Nixon’s special session agenda is a proposal to move Missouri’s presidential primary from February to March to comply with the preferences of the national Democratic and Republican parties. Nixon previously vetoed a bill that would have made that change, citing his objection to other election-related provisions in the bill.