JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Republican gubernatorial candidate Dave Spence called for a moratorium on Missouri's tax credits Friday as he rolled out his first formal economic proposals in his bid to challenge Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.
Spence's policy proclamations came as Nixon reported he had accumulated more than $5 million for his re-election campaign - a sizable amount that may be necessary to counteract Spence's personal fortune.
The economy - job creation in particular - figures to be a key theme of the 2012 campaign season, which is beginning with Missouri's unemployment rate a little above 8 percent. Nixon has been traveling the state this week highlighting his own ideas to spur job growth in advance of next Tuesday's State of the State address. Nixon dubs his plan "Missouri Works." Spence describes his ideas as a "Back to Work" policy.
A businessman from St. Louis making his first political bid, Spence pledged to hire a private-sector business leader to run the Department of Economic Development and stressed he would not choose an attorney for the position - a jab at Nixon, an attorney, who has tapped lawyers for many of his key leadership positions.
"I would take personal responsibility for DED, and I would work my tail off and be the state's number one salesman," Spence said.
The Department of Economic Development oversees many of Missouri's tax incentives for businesses and has come under scrutiny lately following the high-profile collapse of a deal to bring an artificial sweetener factory to Moberly. This past week, members of a special House committee quizzed economic development officials about figures showing businesses authorized to receive at least $1 million in tax breaks under the Missouri Quality Jobs program during the past six years have so far created just one-fourth of the jobs they had anticipated.
If elected, Spence said he would approve no additional tax credits until their effectiveness is vetted by independent private-sector experts whom he hopes will volunteer for the task.
His economic agenda also includes several issues being touted by the Republican-led Legislature, including changes to workers' compensation and employment laws to create an environment where businesses are more likely to add jobs. Spence said Missouri should re-examine its wage requirements for public works projects to see if they are hindering rebuilding after the Joplin tornado.
Spence said he supports "increasing our energy supply" and would press business and consumer groups to reach an agreement with electricity supplier Ameren Missouri on whether the Legislature should relax restrictions that have made it financially challenging to build a second nuclear power plant in Missouri. Also under his "Back to Work" ideas, Spence listed support for the Department of Transportation to come up with ways to improve Interstate 70, though he shied away from taking a position yet on whether tolls should be used for financing.
This past week, Nixon has been promoting new incentives for suppliers to the state's automobile manufacturing plants, some of which recently announced plans to expand or build new models in Missouri. Nixon also has proposed to subsidize half the salary for military veterans for up to 26 weeks of on-the-job training in private-sector workplaces. He wants to create a position for an international exports coordinator in the Missouri Department of Agriculture to finance new export offices in China, southeast Asia and South America.
Last fall, Nixon called lawmakers into a special session to consider revamping the state's incentives for businesses. But the Legislature failed to pass the marquee bill of the session because of disagreements between the House and Senate.
If Spence wins a Republican primary in August, a contest against Nixon could become costly. Spence already has put $2 million of his own money into his campaign.
Nixon's campaign reported Friday that he raised more than $1.3 million during the last three months of 2011. His campaign spent more than $477,000 and contributed more than $71,000 to other candidates or political committees during that time.
Campaign manager Oren Shur said Nixon's $5 million campaign account shows he has support from Missourians and is well positioned to win re-election.