JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri senators stayed up all night debating legislation to give Ford Motor Co. tax incentives to keep its assembly plant near Kansas City, but a filibuster continued to prevent a vote Wednesday.
Republican Sen. Chuck Purgason led the effort to block a vote on a bill that would allow automotive manufacturers to claim up to $15 million annually in tax breaks. Fellow Senate opponents assisted by letting Purgason take short breaks as the debate pushed through the night and toward dawn.
The filibuster could prolong the Legislature's special session, which leaders had hoped to finish Wednesday. If the tax incentives are approved by the Senate, the bill would return to the House where lawmakers generally have been more supportive of the tax incentives.
The automotive manufacturing tax incentives have been paired with cost-saving changes to the state pension system.
Some Republican senators said they shared concerns about offering new tax breaks but argued that the retirement system overhaul could be a significant help to Missouri's troubled state budget. The pension changes would require new state workers to contribute to their retirement and work longer before qualifying.
That did not persuade Purgason as the floor debate that began Tuesday afternoon stretched more than 18 hours.
Purgason, R-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.
To get the bill to the Senate floor, leaders stripped Purgason of a committee chairmanship that he'd used to block the bill. That did not stop him.
Purgason read aloud from e-mails and books, and discussed 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, who is running for the U.S. Senate, has tried to draw support from the contemporary tea party movement. Around dawn, Sen. Jack Goodman, a Republican candidate for Congress, helped take a leading role in the filibuster.
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.