Senators stall on Joplin tornado aid

Wednesday, September 14, 2011 | 2:07 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — An effort to provide tax relief to businesses destroyed by the deadly Joplin tornado has stalled under opposition in the Missouri Senate and is in danger of failing during a special legislative session.

State Sen. Ron Richard of Joplin told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he will not move the bill forward because too many fellow Republican senators have concerns about rushing to provide disaster relief before the state knows the full costs from a year of tornadoes and flooding and has developed a comprehensive plan for recovery.

"The reality is there isn't the votes to do it," Richard said.

The new Senate concerns come despite a 149-0 vote last week by the House to pass legislation allowing property taxes to be pro-rated for businesses destroyed by tornadoes, flooding or other natural disasters — a tax break that would be similar to what already is available to many homeowners. That bill also would have allowed for the creation of special Tax Increment Financing districts in disaster areas, which would have diverted a portion of the growth in state and local tax revenues from those disaster zones to help finance redevelopment efforts.

No one testified against the legislation during a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Ways and Means and Fiscal Oversight Committee. In fact, committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Purgason said after the meeting that the proposal "sounds good," and his office had said the bill would be voted upon Wednesday. But later Tuesday, Republican senators met behind closed doors and raised concerns about the state's general approach to disaster relief. On Wednesday, Purgason's committee declined to bring the disaster-relief bill up for a vote.

"We're all in favor of doing what we can for Joplin relief," Purgason, R-Caulfield, said after the meeting. "We're just making sure we don't screw things up."

Richard said some senators had questioned whether school districts and county governments around the state would resort to raising tax levees to offset lost property taxes, if the legislation passed. He said there also are concerns about whether the state would be asked to replenish those lost tax revenues and about the unintended consequences of pro-rating 2011 property taxes for businesses and then also diverting their future tax revenues to the special redevelopment districts.

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