Jobs bill stalls in Missouri Senate

Friday, March 13, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — During the past month, Gov. Jay Nixon has asked state senators to put aside debate on tax credit reform and adopt a bill aimed at job creation. But when the legislature adjourned for spring break on Thursday, Nixon did not have legislation ready for his signature.

A substitute for the bill, introduced Wednesday in the Senate, would phase out certain tax credits pending legislative review, create a cap on credits and mandate that all tax credits go through the state appropriations process. 

"If we're going to have expansion (of tax credits), you also need reasonable reforms, the checks and balances that ensure accountability to the taxpayers," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville.

The Senate sponsor of the original bill, Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, said he was "thrilled" legislation still includes raising the cap on incentives for certain businesses that create jobs from $60 million to $120 million. But he said he doesn't think Lager's additions to the bill are necessary.

While Nixon may have wanted to pass the bill as soon as possible, most of the programs in the bill would not take effect until Aug. 20, Pearce said.

"Most of our programs are still in a fiscal year, so they're still being used from now until June 30," he said. "So I think it (passing the bill before spring break) was maybe more symbolic that, you know, the governor and legislature are all on board."

Lager said the General Assembly never met the timelines of former Govs. Bob Holden and Matt Blunt.

"I understand the governor. He was hopeful it would get there by then," Lager said. "But what is more important to us, especially after what we saw in Washington, was this isn't about doing it fast. This is about doing it right."

One of the original bill's most vocal opponents, Republican Sen. Jason Crowell of Cape Girardeau, said Lager's legislation will accomplish nothing and that he plans to filibuster the bill to try to stop it from moving forward.

Crowell said he supports creating much broader restrictions on the use of state-sponsored tax credits by eliminating the Missouri Development Finance Board's ability to issue tax credits and turning such decisions over to state legislators.

"All the tax credits the Missouri Development Finance Board issued during the Blunt administration were projects that would never gain legislative approval, ever," he said. "It's an abuse of power, it's an abusive process and it must end."

House Speaker Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said he was disappointed that the Senate has not passed what he considers the most important piece of legislation for the session but said he's willing to send the original bill to the Senate until it is passed.

"Because we cannot break it loose ... we're going to send an economic development bill over every week until the bill is stopped," he said. "Then we're going to send that same bill attached to every bill. We're going to send a hundred of them, three hundred of them, five hundred of them until we get that broke loose."

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