JEFFERSON CITY — A daylong filibuster led by a Missouri senator blocked a key vote on whether to give Ford Motor Co. tax incentives to keep its assembly plant near Kansas City.
Republican Sen. Chuck Purgason dominated a 10-hour debate over legislation that would allow automotive manufacturers to claim up to $15 million annually in tax breaks. Fellow opponents in the Senate helped by giving him a short rest as debate pushed into the night. The filibuster continued past midnight.
The effort delayed a vote on the bill in the Senate and held up the legislature’s special session.
Supporters want to offset some of the costs of the new tax breaks by making changes to the state pension system. Legislative leaders and Gov. Jay Nixon hope to get final approval for both bills by Wednesday.
Purgason, of Caulfield, said the incentives plan is the wrong approach to economic development. He said broad-based tax cuts for small businesses would do more for Missouri’s economy than tax breaks targeted for specific big businesses.
Another critic, Sen. Matt Bartle, said the state cannot afford to offer tax incentives.
“We’re dead-bang broke,” said the Lee’s Summit Republican, who assisted the filibuster and led a nearly solo 17-hour filibuster in 2007.
To get the bill to the Senate floor, leaders stripped Purgason of a committee chairmanship that he’d used to block the bill. But that didn’t stop him.
On 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 also read aloud from e-mails he solicited, the book “The Frontiersmen” and another book about economics.
Purgason, who is running for the U.S. Senate, has tried to draw support from the contemporary tea party movement.
Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis, said savings from the pension system changes would more than offset the cost of the new tax incentives and would be a boost to Missouri’s budget.
The proposed automotive incentives would let manufacturers keep all or a portion of the employee withholding taxes they normally pay to the state 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.