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Lawmakers, governor at odds over fighter jets

Lawmakers, governor at odds over fighter jets

October 11th, 2011 in News

A new wrinkle of disagreement has emerged in Missouri's special legislative session on business incentives: State lawmakers and Gov. Jay Nixon now apparently are at odds over the production of military fighter jets.

The dispute comes after the Missouri House took a roughly half-hour break from its debate last week over a wide-ranging business-incentive bill to instead discuss and pass a resolution urging Congress to provide full funding for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. Although the plane is made by Lockheed Martin Corp. in Texas, the House resolution notes that its supplying companies employ more than 500 people in Missouri.

Nixon responded with a written statement last week asserting the House resolution "simply is not the position of the state of Missouri." Instead, the governor emphasized Missouri's support for Boeing Co., which makes the F/A-18 jet in St. Louis. Boeing said it employs about 15,000 people in Missouri, including about 5,000 connected with the F/A-18.

Was the House resolution a slap to one of Missouri's biggest employers? Or was Nixon overreacting to a symbolic gesture that has no real effect?

The resolution's sponsor, state Rep. Caleb Jones, R-California, said Monday he had not intended to stir up controversy.

"I'm a big fan of Boeing - they're one of our largest employers in the state, and I strongly support them," said Jones, the vice chairman of the House Economic Development Committee. "I also support different companies from throughout Missouri."

Jones said he sponsored the resolution at the request of a representative of a supplier, though he said Monday he could not recall the person or the company's name.

"If this resolution was going to cost Missouri jobs, I wouldn't have done it," he said.

The resolution passed the House 127-7, with most of the discussion focused on whether lawmakers were wasting their time on a measure that carried little more importance than a greeting card to Congress, instead of debating their own economic development legislation. Among those voting for the resolution was Rep. Clem Smith, D-St. Louis, a machinist for Boeing.

Representatives ultimately also passed a business incentive bill that would cut corporate income taxes and create new tax credits for computer data centers and international exporters, among others.

Underlying Nixon's opposition to the House fighter-jet resolution is a concern that Boeing and Lockheed Martin could be in competition to make fighter jets in the future and a desire to avoid more immediate budget cuts to either the F/A-18 or F-35 programs as President Barack Obama and Congress search for ways to reduce the national debt.

Nixon spokesman Sam Murphey on Monday reiterated the governor's concern about the House's action.

"This resolution passed by the House last week simply was not the position of the state of Missouri, and it was important for us to clarify the state's position," Murphey said.

A Boeing spokesman declined to say whether the company viewed the House resolution as detrimental to its business. Instead the company issued a written statement saying: "We commend Gov. Nixon for his strong commitment to business in the state of Missouri and appreciate his efforts on behalf of the men and women of Boeing."