Missouri must meet a few criteria if it hopes to attract new businesses, candidates for the state House of Representatives District 60 seat said.
But the candidates — Dave Griffith, a Republican, and Sara Michael, a Democrat — don’t entirely agree on what the criteria should be and how they might reach them.
Griffith said companies want certain things available before they even consider moving into a state — things like right-to-work laws and safe, reliable roads and bridges.
“Right to work — voters spoke very clearly about how they felt about that,” Griffith said, “voting down Proposition A.”
At a News Tribune-hosted forum Oct. 2, Griffith said he would respect the right-to-work vote, although he voted for it at the polls. He said he considers it a “done deal.”
The defeat of Proposition A during August’s primary election repealed a 2017 law the Missouri General Assembly passed and then-Gov. Eric Greitens signed, which prevented unions from requiring members to pay dues. Voters defeated the measure with about a 2-1 margin.
Whether they admit it or not — and despite what voters said in the August election — Republicans will find a way to bring right to work back up, Michael said.
“Continued attacks against organizations that protect our workforce (like right to work) are not meant to build and encourage our workforce. It’s an attack on the unions that train our workforce,” she said.
Companies that wish to locate in Missouri want well-trained employees, but so do companies already in the state, she said.
“Every one of those unions has the training that helps workers develop skills,” she said. “If you restrict the ability to train good employees, it doesn’t help Missouri by any stretch.”
The state should invest in and focus on training employees, she said.
Businesses also are looking at transportation issues when considering Missouri, Griffith said.
“How do I get supplies in, and how do I get finished products out of the state of Missouri?” he asked. “We had a consultant come in. A map showed all arteries led right to I-70, traveled across our state and spread back out again.”
Missouri has to figure out how to fix what’s broken with I-70, Griffith said. The proposed increase to the state’s fuels tax is a good start, he said.
Proposition D — if passed during the Nov. 6 general election — would increase the fuels tax by 10 cents per gallon over the next four years. The increased tax would free up about $288 million annually for use on roads and bridges.
“The increase over the next four years will help increase revenue. It may be a drop in the bucket, but it’s better than no drop at all,” Griffith said.
Another option the state may consider for generating revenue for highways would be to look at toll roads.
Although some voters may “push back” on toll roads, the people who use them are paying for them, Griffith said.
Michael agreed being right in the middle of the nation, with all the highways that cross through Missouri, makes the state an attractive place for industry. She has voiced her support of toll roads in the past.
She said tolls are paid by the people who are using the roads.
When looking at the state’s infrastructure, some people often overlook its rail system and airports, she said.
“We have terrific airports. Jefferson City has a viable airport. Springfield does,” she said. “We can get people in and out.”
Michael said she too supports and intends to vote for Proposition D. However, she also recognizes that the tax may be considered regressive, in that people with lower incomes pay a higher percentage of their incomes toward it. But everybody needs to chip in to make Missouri a better place, she said.
Communities should be involved in discussions about transportation, Griffith said. The state needs to hold town-hall meetings to get input from people in rural and metropolitan communities who are affected by highways in their communities.
He said expanding broadband in rural settings isn’t a luxury anymore — it’s a necessity for growth of Missouri’s economy, despite what it might cost.
“We need to advocate for broadband across the state,” Griffith said. “That’s going to cost some money.”
The Missouri Legislature in May took steps to increase broadband in rural communities by creating the Missouri Department of Economic Development’s new branch — the Missouri Broadband Development Office. That office is tasked with expanding rural broadband access.
Missouri needs to lead other states in expansion of broadband into rural communities, Michael said.
One thing it has done that others haven’t, she said, is to cut the corporate tax rate — a move she opposed.
In May, during the last week of the General Assembly, the chambers agreed to cut the corporate tax rate from the 10th-lowest to the second-lowest in the country, reducing it from 6.25 percent to 3.5 percent. But, before it was approved, legislators realized the cut would have created a $300 million shortfall. Within 24 hours, the General Assembly revisited the cut and set the new rate at 3.9 percent.
Michael said there was no indication being among the lowest rates in the country had attracted any businesses to the state. So she questioned how cutting a few more percentage points would attract businesses.
“I have yet to see any justification as for why it was necessary,” Michael said. “By reducing corporate tax, all they’ve done is increase the burden on individual personal taxes.”
Griffith said he’s been told the low corporate tax rate has allowed companies to pay employees better. And it is a “checklist item” that is attractive to companies, although he is not aware of any companies that have chosen Missouri because of its low corporate tax rate.
“The corporate tax break is a way to bring new industry into Missouri,” he said. “It’s a good stimulus to bring in industry.”
Griffith and Michael are running for the seat currently held by Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, who is completing his fourth term. Term limits prevent him from running for re-election. The district consists of most of Jefferson City, with the exception of the southeast section.