When it comes to the jobs bill under consideration in the long and quiet special session of the Missouri Legislature, the state's Republican Party has reached the point at which it is time to fish or cut bait.
That was basically the message sent by Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, last week when he suggested that lawmakers send him a jobs bill or go home.
Make no mistake: If the jobs bill fails, at this point, it's entirely a Republican political failure. Nixon has offered support for the version of the bill passed by the Senate and the version of the bill that was discussed, but not introduced, by House leaders. He is not standing in the way of progress here.
Republicans hold huge majorities in the House and the Senate, and it's been intraparty fighting that stalled the jobs bill in the regular and special sessions.
The reason for the current delay is more political than substantive.
Twice now the Senate has passed a version of the bill that includes some elements of the Aerotropolis in St. Louis, sunsets and caps in other tax credit programs and incentives to help turn plant and animal science research into homegrown businesses.
The versions of the bills were quite a bit different. Each was a compromise. The House has yet to debate, let alone pass, its own version.
Either of the Senate's bills would spur some job creation while reining in the long-term and unchecked growth of other tax credit programs.
The proposals, like all economic development programs, have been and always will be a gamble.
But at a time when Missouri residents are suffering job losses and continuing to run in place in a stalled economy, the bills reflect serious attempts by the business community to improve the state's environment for job creation in a variety of industries, both in the cities and in agriculture-based communities across the state.
Politically, it serves Republicans no purpose to go into the 2012 elections as the party that couldn't shoot straight and that failed to pass a jobs bill while holding all the cards.
So what are they waiting for?
The better question might be: Who are they waiting for?
Until Missouri Republicans have a 2012 gubernatorial candidate to rally behind, the various party factions lack a unifying political force. Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, once considered a lock to run for the GOP nomination, has been conspicuously silent during the special session. His candidacy and ability to lead his party have been damaged by political and personal controversies.
Left in Kinder's fading wake are a variety of lawmakers with statewide aspirations — Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, and Speaker of the House Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, to name but two — who appear to be more worried about their political futures than crafting a jobs solution that allows everybody to win.
There is a path to success. The jobs bill should include expiration dates for all tax credit programs so that they have accountability. Nixon should be allowed to consolidate some of the existing economic development incentives into his Compete Missouri proposal, but without the up-front closing costs, that could be wasteful.
The freight-forwarder tax credits for Aerotropolis should be approved to start the process of luring cargo and improving exporting opportunities.
All of this can happen if Republican leaders stand up to bring their warring factions together. The House returns to action — or inaction— on Thursday. Who will be ready to lead?
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.