By DAVID A. LIEB
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A special legislative session focused on Missouri's business incentives got off to a rough start Tuesday as a Republican senator signaled he was willing to stall consideration of a proposal that he has denounced as a "back-room deal" for "government handouts to campaign donors and special interests."
The legislative session slowed to a snail's pace in the Senate shortly after it began as Sen. Jason Crowell of Cape Girardeau began asking questions about a typically routine resolution notifying the House that the Senate was in session. Crowell said he objects both to the session's agenda set by Gov. Jay Nixon and to the particulars of a package that would overhaul the state's tax credits for businesses.
"It's a heck of a lot easier to stop a freight train before it starts moving, without any conductor on the track, than when it hits 75 miles an hour," Crowell said while explaining his opening-day delaying tactics during a debate with Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer.
The focal point of the special session is a proposal creating tax incentives for international cargo shippers at the St. Louis airport, computerized data centers, science and technology companies and major amateur sporting events. The cost of the new programs would be offset by the elimination of a tax break for low-income disabled and elderly residents who live in rented homes and a reduction of existing tax credits for developers who build low-income housing or refurbish historic buildings.
Crowell contends there are not sufficient safeguards for taxpayer dollars in the newly proposed programs or enough new restrictions on the existing tax breaks for developers. Over the past several weeks, he has written a multi-part column denouncing the proposal as "short on tax credit reform but long on government handouts to campaign donors and special interests in the name of "economic development' and "job growth."' During Tuesday's Senate discussion, Crowell did not single out any particular campaign donors that he contends would benefit from the tax breaks.
Besides the business incentives, the agenda for Missouri's special session also includes a change for the state's presidential primary from February to March to comply with guidelines from the Republican and Democratic national parties. Other agenda items would grant St. Louis officials - instead of a state board - direct control over the city's police force for the first time since the Civil War era and would offer some people and businesses a chance to pay overdue taxes without penalties or interest.
On Tuesday, Nixon followed through on a pledge to further expand the session's agenda to cover the repeal of a controversial new Missouri law restricting teachers' interaction with students over Facebook or other Internet sites.
As he previously indicated he may do, Nixon also expanded the session's agenda Tuesday to include a prorated property tax break for businesses destroyed by the Joplin tornado or other disasters, such as this year's flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.