Vote on China hub bill delayed by House committee

Tuesday, September 20, 2011 | 10:48 a.m. CDT; updated 3:57 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 20, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — A vote on the bill that would develop a trade hub with China has been delayed by the House Economic Development Committee. The committee canceled its executive session to further consider the six hours of testimony it heard both in support of and in opposition to the bill.

A representative said the committee needed more time to consider the testimony. The Associated Press reported that the bill's House handler said the special session might adjourn without passing the bill unless a consensus can be reached in the next two days.

The Senate refused to approve $300 million in tax breaks specifically for building the infrastructure to attract a Chinese air cargo carrier. Instead, the Senate version would funnel the tax breaks through a new business tax-break program tied to job creation.

But House leaders have attacked that approach, arguing the "Compete Missouri" program gives too much power to the governor's administration to pick businesses that would get the tax breaks.

After sitting through four hours of testimony from organizations and lobbyists in favor of the China hub bill Monday night, Bob Wood from Glasgow was the first to speak in opposition.

"I don't represent anybody but myself," Wood said. He said he spent the last 20 years using a St. Louis warehouse to house Chinese goods and opposed giving tax credits to developers for the same thing.

"There's a lot of money going to people who maybe don't need that help," Wood said.

Several witnesses identified themselves as members of the tea party and wanted the government to step aside. One such witness, Ron Calzone, compared the government handing out tax credits as mercantilism similar to the Tea Act of 1778. Calzone and other witnesses asserted that tax credits were unconstitutional and did not treat people as equals.

"Unfortunately the world has changed, and it seems like working hard and doing the right thing isn't enough," said Rep. Michael Brown, D-Kansas City. Brown engaged in heated conversations with multiple witnesses, saying the free market approach would not work in "undesirable" areas like his district.

"Where I come from, if you have a chain and there's a weak link in the chain, the smartest thing to do is support the weak link so that the overall chain is strengthened," Brown said. "And I think that's what we're trying to do."

Specific opposition addressed cuts to the low-income housing and historic preservation tax credits. Francie Roderick, a representative from Places for People, said that low-income housing credits are needed to develop special needs housing for people with disabilities or psychiatric disorders. The bill currently places caps and expiration dates on both credits to redirect funds to development programs relating to development of a trade hub with China.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay testified that if the bill is not passed, China will lose interest in trade with Missouri. Slay said that China is also looking at other cities such as Cincinnati, some of which are also preparing incentives. The deal could open trade to other areas such as Brazil, South America and Africa. China wants to use the Midwest for this type of open trading with other countries, Slay said.

The first Chinese flight will be landing at Lambert International Airport this weekend, with flights once a week to test if exports can match imports, Slay said.

"If some reasonable form of this does not pass then my prediction is that we will have lost the opportunity, and they will go someplace else," Slay said.

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