UPDATE: Missouri senator seeks to block vote on Ford bill

Tuesday, July 13, 2010 | 6:22 p.m. CDT; updated 8:00 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 14, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — The engine restarted Tuesday on a Missouri plan to use tax incentives to lure Ford Motor Co. into keeping its assembly plant near Kansas City, but one senator has spent hours trying to keep the brakes on.

Sen. Chuck Purgason led a one-man movement against legislation that would allow automotive manufacturers to claim up to $15 million annually in tax breaks and used the social networking site Twitter to ask people for assistance in continuing to prevent a vote.

The filibuster stretched into the evening, delaying a vote on the bill and holding up the Legislature's special session.

Lawmakers plan to offset some of the costs of the new tax breaks through moneysaving changes to the state pension system. Legislative leaders and Gov. Jay Nixon hope to get final approval for both bills by Wednesday.

Purgason, R-Caulfield, said the incentives measure is the wrong approach to economic development and contends that broad-based tax cuts for small businesses would do more for Missouri's economy than tax breaks targeted for specific big businesses. To get the bill to the Senate floor, leaders stripped Purgason of a committee chairmanship that he had used to block the bill.

To delay a vote Tuesday, Purgason read about the history of the American colonial opposition to the British leading up to the Boston Tea Party, which he said included frustration that a company lobbied the government for a tax break to unfairly compete.

"What the Boston Tea Party was, was a bunch of people who said they have had enough," he said. "I think that's what we're seeing with the tea party" movement in this year's elections.

Purgason is a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate and has tried to draw support from the contemporary tea party movement.

Besides the history lesson, Purgason read aloud from e-mails he solicited, the book "The Frontiersman" and another book about economics.

Missouri's proposed automotive incentives would let manufacturers keep all or a portion of the employee withholding taxes they normally would pay Missouri if they make factory improvements for a new or modified product. Suppliers to those manufacturers also could get a tax break.

"Compared to some of the other economic development tools that many of these folks (lawmakers) have been for and pushed through the years, this one's about as sharp as you can get," the governor said Tuesday. "I think it's a measure that is targeted to accomplish what we need — to put us back in the game to get these jobs of the future."

The tax breaks target primarily Ford's Claycomo plant, which employs about 3,700 people to make the F-150 truck, Ford Escape and its twin Mercury Mariner, and the Mazda Tribute. Local union leaders have said Ford plans to cease making sport utility vehicles there by the end of next year, and Missouri officials hope to lure production of a new model to the plant.

Ford officials have declined to comment about the company's plans for the Claycomo plant or future products.

But Nixon said Tuesday that Ford also is considering incentives from other states and plans to make a decision soon.

Besides opposition over offering any tax breaks, some contend the legislation should be expanded.

The data storage industry says new tax incentives are needed for Missouri to compete with nearby states for data center construction. The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry said a cost-benefit analysis shows the state could gain an extra $40 million in taxes over the next five years.

The House has tried to include data centers in the tax incentives, but Nixon and senators contend the focus needs to be narrowed.

House members were expected to meet after the Senate wrapped up.


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Harry Hill July 13, 2010 | 11:28 p.m.

Let's do the math. In five years the state pays $75 million and gets back in taxes $40 million. It's no wonder the state is in financial trouble, keep making deals like this and we will be bankrupt. And who pays for this "deal", state employees through their pension fund. Why isn't their union screaming bloody murder? Could their union be on the take?

Thank God for Chuck Purgason, too bad for Missouri we don't have more legislators like him.

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