JEFFERSON CITY — With the Missouri General Assembly's largest-ever Republican majority ready to kick off the legislative session, legislative leaders cited economic development and business growth as their top priorities. On the eve of the legislative session, a coalition of state business leaders presented six proposals for legislators to consider.
Missouri's House of Representatives and Senate begin their 2011 legislative session Wednesday at noon. The first order of business will be to swear in the newly elected members. Nearly half of the members in the House will be starting their first terms. The two chambers will then elect their leaders — the speaker and speaker pro tem in the House and the president pro tem in the Senate. After the formalities, lawmakers can begin to focus on their top priorities for the session.
"Our primary focus legislatively is putting people back to work," said Rep. Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, who is expected to be elected House speaker.
The Senate's incoming president pro tem, Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, agreed.
"I think we heard very loudly and clearly from the voters on Nov. 2 that, listen, we want our legislators to create an agenda that will create more jobs and job opportunities," Mayer said.
The sentiment is shared by leaders from across the aisle. House Minority Leader Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County, said priorities are the same for both parties. Expanding and creating jobs for Missourians will be addressed this legislative session.
"I think we need to make sure we concentrate on jobs — not only creating new jobs, but keeping the ones we have," Talboy said.
Mayer said legislators will need to look at a job creation initiative in the upcoming session.
"How we pass laws and policy — that makes Missouri a state where employers want to do business, and the ones that we do have stay in the state of Missouri," Mayer said.
A coalition of the state's top business organizations unveiled their proposals for the legislature. Rather than focusing on tax breaks, the six proposals focused on issues the coalition said would not cost the state money.
The group recommended restricting both liability awards against businesses and increases in the minimum wage. The one tax-related issue would phase out the corporate franchise tax, which the group said is too similar to the income tax and therefore a form of double taxation.
The pro-business agenda got a mixed reaction from the legislature's top Democrats.
Senate Democratic leader Victor Callahan, D-Independence, criticized the business coalition for not proposing reductions in tax credits, as recommended by a special commission apppointed by the governor last year.
"What I think we should be talking about, in addition to this, is what are we going to do about the $650 million of Missouri taxpayer money that goes in the form of tax credits," Callahan said.
Tax credits are available for activities such as adoptions and historic preservation.
Republican leaders in the House have argued that significant cuts in tax credits could undermine the state's economic development.
After the GOP swept in a supermajority on election night and Republicans picked their new leaders, a hard-line conservative takeover was possible. Instead, members from both parties expect a cordial and cooperative legislative session.
"The voters want a government that lives within its means, is accountable, that encourages economic growth and development," Tilley said. "But they also want a government that is respectful, and is respectful to both parties."
Talboy said he was also optimistic about a bipartisan effort.
"I think we have a good working relationship thus far, and I think there is definitely a different tone coming out of the speaker's office than the prior two years, and I'm optimistic about that," Talboy said.