Analysis: Special session unlikely without urgency

Nixon says he won’t call a special session without an ‘overriding need’

No sooner had Missouri’s regular legislative session ended than a clamor arose from some lawmakers for an extra session to deal with some weighty topics that had failed to pass.

Some want Gov. Jay Nixon to summon lawmakers back for a special session authorizing up to $360 million of tax incentives to transform the St. Louis airport into an international trade hub. Others want a special session on legislation that could lay the foundation for a second nuclear power plant in Missouri.

But unless supporters of those initiatives can demonstrate an urgent need, a special session appears unlikely.

To call a special session, Nixon said, “you would have to have an overriding need to get it done, and you would have to have broad consensus.”

Consensus can develop — and has, in the past — after a regular legislative session ends. But it is much more difficult to achieve consensus if there is no urgency — no circumstance that would require lawmakers to act by a particular date.

That urgency existed last year when Nixon called a summertime special session on legislation authorizing up to $100 million of tax breaks to entice Ford Motor Co. to continue making vehicles at its Claycomo plant near Kansas City. To offset the cost of the new tax breaks, Nixon also placed on the agenda an overhaul of the state’s main pension system that requires new workers to pay a portion of their wages toward their retirement benefits and to work longer before drawing benefits.

Nixon said Ford was making decisions in 2010 about where to build its next generation of vehicles, so if Missouri waited until the regular 2011 legislative session to consider incentives, it could have risked losing thousands of jobs at the plant.

“I felt it was a little more pressing” than this year’s circumstances, Nixon said.

In this year’s failed overhaul of Missouri’s business incentives, the most prominent item would have created tax breaks to entice China Cargo Airlines — and potentially other companies from around the world — to choose Lambert-St. Louis International Airport as a hub for importing and exporting products.

Chinese airline officials are to meet this Tuesday through Thursday with representatives of the St. Louis airport and companies that could handle the logistics of storing and distributing freight. But unlike the Ford scenario, it is unclear when the Chinese company will decide whether to use the airport — and thus when Missouri would need to have any incentives on the table.

“We haven’t really been dealing on a firm deadline,” said Dan Mehan, vice chairman of the Midwest-China Hub Commission and president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Supporters of a second Missouri nuclear power plant may be in a similar situation. They’re supporting legislation creating an exception to a 1976 law prohibiting utilities from billing customers for the cost of power plants until they are operational. A proposal would let customers be billed for some costs of applying for a nuclear site permit. But that bill failed, despite a last-day attempt at compromise among utilities and industrial energy users.

Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, has urged Nixon to call a special session, likely for this September. He said Missouri utilities have options to invest in power plants in other states and waiting until 2012 to reconsider the Missouri legislation could be too long. Yet Kehoe acknowledged he has not heard of any specific date by which utilities must decide where they will get their future electricity.

Richard Mark, senior vice president of customer operations for Ameren Missouri, said the St. Louisbased utility will need additional capacity for producing electricity around 2020 to 2022. The federal years.

“It’s one of those things that there isn’t a drop-dead date on right now,” Mark said. “But the longer we postpone it, the concern is that getting it done and getting that permit would be more and more difficult.”

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, has asked Nixon to call a special session for a bill giving control of the St. Louis police force to city officials instead of a board consisting largely of gubernatorial appointees. The current structure has been in place since the Civil War. But Nasheed says the issue should be as treated urgently to head off an initiative petition campaign that could place the issue on the 2012 ballot.

The unresolved issue with perhaps the greatest urgency is the pending insolvency of the state’s Second Injury Fund, which pays claims to people with existing injuries who suffer another work-related injury. The fund had a balance of $6.7 million last week. But state Attorney General Chris Koster has declined to pay 55 new permanent total disability claims amounting to $3.5 million because of concerns the new payments — when combined with existing cases — could deplete the fund.

Even so, the fund is expected to be $20 million in the hole by the end of the year, said Koster spokeswoman Nanci Gonder.

Koster, who had urged lawmakers to overhaul the fund, has not yet asked Nixon for a special session. And Nixon, a former attorney general, does not seem inclined to call a special session on the Second Injury Fund. At a post-session news conference, Nixon referred to the issues as a “two-year bill” in which progress is made one year and passage occurs the next.

“Sessions come and go,” Nixon

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