Business incentives bill dead in Senate

The already slim chance of passing a business incentive bill edged closer to none Monday as the Missouri Senate opted against seeking any further negotiations with the House during a special legislative session.

Lawmakers were called into special session in early September to consider legislation creating new incentives for international exports at the St. Louis airport, computer data centers, amateur sports events and businesses that might otherwise be lured to leave Missouri for other states. To pay for the new incentives, the plan also called for many of Missouri’s existing tax credits to be scaled back or eliminated.

But the House and Senate have passed dramatically different versions of the bill and now are at a stalemate.

Last week, Republicans who hold an overwhelming Senate majority met privately and decided to ask the Republican-led House for a formal conference committee to try to work out their difference. They were to officially make that request Monday. But instead, the Senate reversed course and sent the House a message asking representatives to back off their position and simply pass the Senate version — something that is unlikely to occur.

Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer said it would have been “fruitless” and “meaningless” to confer further with the House, because both chambers are firmly entrenched.

“The differences between the House and Senate on the economic development, tax-credit reform bill are irreconcilable,” said Mayer, R-Dexter. “They cannot be resolved over the little bit of time that still remains in this special session.”

Under the state constitution, the special session is set to automatically end Nov. 5. The Senate has not scheduled any additional sessions at which votes could be taken.

After the Senate adjourned its Monday night session, Mayer was asked if senators were effectively done for the special session. He responded: “This is it.”

House Speaker Steven Tilley, R-Perrryville, had said last week that he would oppose any attempt to meet in a conference committee because of the lingering differences between the House and Senate.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon called lawmakers into special session after House and Senate leaders declared this summer that they have reached an agreement. But that deal quickly disintegrated when lawmakers arrived at the Capitol. Nixon now has been urging lawmakers to either pass something soon or end the session.

The main sticking point on the economic development legislation has been whether it should include a 2018 expiration date for a pair of current tax credits that aid the construction of low-income housing and the renovation of historic buildings. The Senate has insisted the programs — which waived a combined $250 million of taxes last year — must have expiration dates to save money in future state budgets. The House has opposed expiration dates, saying they would make it too easy for a future senator to filibuster a bill reauthorizing the tax credits, which they consider to be worthwhile programs.

The House and Senate versions of the legislation also have numerous other differences.

The Senate bill, for example, includes a plan backed by Nixon to roll several existing tax credits into a single new program called “Compete Missouri” that could grant greater discretion to the Department of Economic Development. The House bill would cut the corporate income tax rate, create a one-week state sales tax exemption on products made in the U.S. and expand a state tax credit for developers who assemble large tracts of land in impoverished areas.

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