JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri's top Senate leader described the chances that the legislature's special session will pass a China hub tax-break package before a self-imposed Friday deadline for the session as "slim."
"I'm not optimistic at all," Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer said of the bill's chances. "I guess you could say it's on life support."
Mayer's comments came after the Senate Republican caucus met twice behind closed doors Wednesday to discuss the possibility of adjourning the special session without passing a single issue.
Mayer, R-Dexter, is the sponsor of the bill that would provide tax breaks to businesses developing an air cargo transport hub in St. Louis for a Chinese airline. The measure also would include reductions or elimination of a variety of tax credits for various special interests and social service programs.
Mayer said his members were upset that House leaders had announced a "compromise" with the governor's support for a version that senators had not even seen.
"It's been my understanding, since I've been here and before, that legislation has to go through both bodies and be signed by the governor and apparently somebody failed to remember that," Mayer said.
In a statement released Wednesday morning, House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, said the House doesn't intend to extend the special session past Friday. Mayer agreed Wednesday that Friday would be the effective drop-dead deadline for something to get passed.
The House Economic Development Committee is scheduled to take up the bill Thursday with a full House debate expected Friday.
Earlier in the day after the first of two GOP Senate caucus meetings, Mayer said most members of the Republican caucus were in favor of ending the special session Wednesday night, but they ultimately decided to give the House until the end of the week to come up with a plan that could pass the Senate.
Among those arguing to simply end the session was Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. LouisCounty.
"It's my position that we shouldn't be doing targeted tax credits in the first place," Lembke said, adding that he thought tax credits and the China cargo hub discussion should be delayed until the regular session so it can be seriously addressed.
During an afternoon Senate session, Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, agreed with Lembke.
"I'm going to advise that if we don't know what their intention is —it appears that we're far away from where we were in May — that we go home and stop wasting the taxpayer's money," Engler said.
"I was fully prepared to try to go into some kind of negotiation," Englersaid. He also said the House and the governor aren't making difficult decisions about tax credits that would give the state more funding options.
"It'll probably come down to us (the Senate) having to cut education and higher education if we don't get some of these things under control."
While the House and Senate have approved various measures requested by the governor, none have made it through both chambers to reach Nixon's desk.
Issues stalled in the special session include changing a restriction on social media use by school staff to communicate with students, a crackdown on persons owing back taxes and giving St. Louis city control over its police department.