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Missouri Chamber prioritizes job creation, transportation, right to work

February 17, 2016 at 5:00 p.m. | Updated January 1, 2021 at 12:00 a.m.
The Missouri Legislature is taking up job creation and other business-related bills in the 2016 session.

As the primary organization lobbying on behalf of Missouri's business community, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry identified an array of issues it wants the Legislature to address this year. In addition to issues such as workforce training, improving Missouri's legal climate for businesses, and reforming workers' compensation laws, the Missouri Chamber identified the following as top priorities for the 2016 legislative session.

Transportation infrastructure funding

Many Missouri businesses have a big stake in the ongoing issue of funding maintenance and improvements for the state's extensive road and bridge system.

In fact, the more than 75 local chambers of commerce of the Missouri Chamber Federation identified supporting the state's transportation infrastructure as their No. 1 priority, especially chambers in communities along I-44 and I-70, said Brian Bunten, director of legislative affairs for the Missouri Chamber.

A proposed sales tax increase to fund transportation projects, billed as Amendment 7, failed to receive enough voter support in the August 2014 election, so lawmakers are still trying to address the annual $325 million the state has estimated it will need to spend on transportation infrastructure by 2017.

"We represent a whole wide swath of people who have a vested interest in transportation, whether it's railroad, whether it's trucking and even manufacturing," Bunten said. "Taking into account all those competing interests, it's difficult because some folks are interested in us pursuing toll roads or private-public partnerships while others oppose those."

The dominant approach legislators are taking this year is to raise motor fuel taxes. Fuel taxes could increase by 3 1⁄2 cents per gallon for diesel and 1 1⁄2 cents per gallon for other fuels (SB 623, sponsored by state Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff ), by 2 cents per gallon (HB 1381, sponsored by state Rep. Keith English, I-Florissant), or by 8 cents per gallon for diesel and 7 cents per gallon for other fuels (HB 1581, sponsored by state Rep. Margo McNeil, D-Florissant).

"Here at the chamber, we're committed to a long-term approach. ... Right now, there's really no long-term proposal out there; it's sort of a stop-gap," Bunten said. "We do realize that we are missing out on a tremendous opportunity based on our location and the number of road miles we have here in the state of Missouri, so we do support an increase in the gas tax as a user fee."

Job creators

After several years the Missouri Chamber believes have been slow for job creation, the chamber is hopeful this year will be more active.

"There has been probably for the last five or six years a debate and disagreement on tax credit reform. All the new incentives for job creation were basically held as leverage to try to get tax credit reform," said Tracy King, vice president of governmental affairs for the chamber. "After fighting about four or five years of that, people just quit filing economic development bills or filed and they just didn't go anywhere."

One bill of particular interest to the chamber is SB 885, sponsored by state Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, which would create the "Show Me Rural Jobs Act" to offer incentives for venture capitalists to invest in entrepreneurial projects in qualifying rural communities. "We think it's important to really focus on rural Missouri, to create jobs in rural Missouri, so we're going to focus on trying to get those venture capitalists investing in manufacturing, ag technology, plant sciences and other high-tech sectors in rural areas and in low-income rural areas," King said.

Right to work

A survey of 1,000 Missouri CEOs conducted by Gallup on behalf of the Missouri Chamber last year showed the majority of the state's employers support right to work, which would prohibit unions and employers from agreeing to workplace contracts that require all employees to pay fees to a union.

"Right to work has been a policy of ours for years. We're still going to advocate for it; it's not going away," Bunten said. "I think it's a little clearer now that what needs to happen for right to work to pass - either there needs to be more support in the Legislature or there needs to be a Republican governor."

"I am not optimistic," he continued. "I think last year we saw the bill go as far as it ever did, and that was a victory for us, but it's not what we wanted. The political realities are there isn't enough support in the House for it to get a veto override, and there isn't support in the Governor's Mansion."


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