Missouri House passes tax, natural disaster bills

The Missouri House moved quickly Friday to approve many of the non-economic development issues on the agenda for the special legislative session that started this week.

House members dispatched bills dealing with property taxes for businesses destroyed by natural disasters, local control of the St. Louis Police Department, amnesty from interest and penalties for delinquent taxpayers and pushing back the presidential primary until March. The House also approved legislation that calls for tapping the state’s reserves to pay for disaster recovery, but that was not included on the agenda for the special session and ultimately could prove to be mostly symbolic.

Progress in the House was considerably smoother than it has been in the Senate, which is slogging through legislation to offer tax breaks to those involved in

international shipping and data centers while overhauling existing tax credit programs. Senators did not meet Friday and were using the weekend to review that legislation amid growing opposition in that chamber. The Senate was returning Monday.

Speaker Steven Tilley said Friday that House leaders made good on their promise this week to win approval for their legislation. To speed the process, the House took the uncommon step of giving the legislation first-round approval Friday and then returning on the same day to advance the bills to the Senate.

“In a bipartisan fashion, Republicans and Democrats came together in the House and did exactly what we said we were going to do at the beginning of special session, so I’m proud of that,” said Tilley, R-Perryville. “Clearly there are some challenges in the Senate.”

Some of the legislation debated Friday has arisen because of a spate of natural disasters that struck Missouri this year. There has been flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, and tornadoes hit Joplin, Sedalia and St. Louis. A May tornado killed 160 people in the Joplin area and damaged or destroyed about 8,000 homes and businesses.

One bill approved Friday would allow damaged buildings and structures on commercial property to be removed from tax rolls after natural disasters until they can be used again. Local officials would need to choose to participate in the program, and businesses would have to apply for the tax relief. It is modeled after an existing law that lets Missouri counties adopt ordinances that permit residential structures to be removed from tax rolls when made uninhabitable by natural disasters and new homes to be added when they are occupied in the middle of the year.

Supporters say the property tax changes for commercial property could help numerous businesses that have been hit hard this year. The legislation was approved without a dissenting vote.

“This is an attempt to assist our businesses in rebuilding,” said sponsoring Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin. “This is true economic stimulus.”

Another portion of the property tax legislation is intended to help communities recover after natural disasters by allowing some of the tax revenue collected in designated redevelopment areas to be used for the rebuilding.

Gov. Jay Nixon added the property tax break to the agenda for the special session earlier this week. Under the Missouri Constitution, the governor determines what topics the Legislature can discuss when lawmakers are called into special sessions that can continue for up to 60 days.

Besides the various issues Nixon included for the special session, the House endorsed legislation that directs $150 million from the state’s rainy day fund to help pay for disaster relief. Nixon has pledged $150 million for disaster response and has made budget cuts to help cover the expense. The governor’s office has said officials do not yet know the full cost and it is too soon to consider using the reserve fund.

House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said using the rainy day fund to pay for disaster recovery makes sense and urged Nixon to add it to the special session. Otherwise, Silvey said tapping the reserve fund would be unconstitutional.

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