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Jobs plan left hanging

Jobs plan left hanging

September 24th, 2011 in News

Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer answers questions during a press conference on the Senate Floor after adjournment Friday. Both houses of the legislature adjourned Friday without coming to an agreement on the jobs package, and while the special session still remains in effect, lawmakers have no plans to continue the session unless a consensus forms before mandatory adjournment in November.

Photo by Julie Smith

Missouri lawmakers sent Gov. Jay Nixon a bill creating an incentive fund for science-based companies but parted ways Friday without agreeing on a broader overhaul of the state's business enticements that had been marketed as the marquee issue of a special legislative session.

Although lawmakers did not adjourn the special session permanently, they have not scheduled any further debates or votes and gave little indication they even desire to keep negotiating on a sweeping plan that would curtail many of Missouri's existing tax credits and offer new incentives for businesses that hire employees and ship international exports through the St. Louis airport.

Nixon said he remains hopeful their differences can be resolved before the special session reaches its mandatory adjournment in early November. But at a Capitol news conference, the governor said lawmakers had fallen short on their duties.

"When it comes to job creation, the General Assembly has missed opportunities to position Missouri for competition in the global economy and the emerging industries of the future," Nixon said.

"The "Made In Missouri' jobs package also would have reined in extensive and expensive tax credit programs, and made strategic investments in the jobs and industries of the future.

"I've said it before - 1, 2, 35, 45 - there's no reason Missouri should lead the nation in spending on historic and low-income tax credits, but rank near the bottom in terms of investment in (elementary, secondary) and higher education."

Nixon directed most of his displeasure at the House, noting the Senate had passed a bipartisan bill revamping Missouri's business incentives but the House never advanced its version out of a committee, much less took a vote by the full chamber. House leaders said they first wanted to negotiate a compromise with the Senate before bringing the bill up for a vote, but Republican leaders from the two chambers refused to budge on a variety of items under negotiation.

One of the big issues separating the two houses is the tax credits issue, where a number of senators want those programs to "sunset" so they must be reviewed, while House leaders and many representatives say the programs don't need restrictions because they provide numerous benefits.

Another issue involves the amount of control governors have on the process of awarding economic development incentives.

The Senate adjourned until Monday and the House until next Thursday. But both chambers are merely scheduled to hold technical sessions in which only one or two lawmakers show up - a move that prevents the session from automatically lapsing. Legislative leaders said they plan to continue stringing the session along in such fashion unless a consensus forms on the economic development legislation, when other lawmakers could be brought back for a vote.

"The special session remains open," said House Majority Leader Tim Jones, R-Eureka. But he added: "I am not confident at this time that there will be any further progress."

Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said there was no reason for the full Senate to come back to the Capitol unless the House first passes its own version of the bill.

The stalemate over the job-incentive legislation also has scuttled a variety of other bills that Nixon placed on the agenda for the special session, including a change to Missouri's presidential primary date, an amnesty period for overdue taxpayers and power shift that would give St. Louis officials - instead of a gubernatorially appointed board - control over the city's police force for the first time since the Civil War era.

Even the one business-related bill that did pass the Legislature ultimately may be doomed. That's because the bill offering incentives for science-based companies contains wording making it contingent upon the enactment of the broader business-incentive bill. Some lawmakers said that if Nixon signs the science bill into law, it could become subject to a lawsuit challenging whether the contingency clause is constitutional.

Bob Watson of the News Tribune scontributed information used in this story.