JEFFERSON CITY — The effort may be futile, but Senate Republicans decided Tuesday to make one more attempt at settling their differences with House members on a business-incentive bill that has been the focal point of a six-week long special session.
After a closed-door meeting of majority party Senate Republicans, Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said they had decided to reconvene the full Senate next Monday to ask the House for a conference committee on the economic development legislation. Senators also plan to consider legislation Monday repealing Missouri's February 2012 presidential primary, which was rendered largely symbolic when state Republicans recently decided to use a caucus system starting in March to select their presidential delegates.
Missouri's special legislative session began Sept. 6 and, according to the state constitution, can last no more than 60 days.
Mayer said he hopes to end the session next week — regardless of whether the House and Senate can agree on a final version of a bill that would curtail many of Missouri's existing tax credits while creating new incentives for such things as computer data centers, amateur sports events and international exporters.
"The (Republican) caucus was of the mindset that they wanted to get an economic development bill done," said Mayer.
But prospects for an agreement remain uncertain.
That's because Mayer pledged to colleagues that the Senate would not pass a bill unless it places a 2018 expiration date on two of Missouri's most costly tax credits for developers of low-income housing and historic buildings. The House last week overwhelmingly rejected an amendment that would have imposed such sunset clauses. Instead, the House legislation would allow a vote every four years, beginning in 2016, on whether to continue providing the two developer tax credits.
House leaders have expressed concerns that an automatic expiration date would make it too easy for a single senator to kill the programs by filibustering future bills needed to reauthorize the tax credits. But senators have said the program end dates are vital to save the state money in the future.
The House and Senate versions of the legislation also have numerous other differences. The Senate bill, for example, includes a plan backed by Gov. Jay Nixon to roll several existing tax credits into a single new program called Compete Missouri that could grant greater discretion to the Department of Economic Development. The House bill would cut the corporate income tax rate and expand a tax credit for developers who assemble large tracts of land in impoverished areas.
Nixon told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he prefers the Senate version and considers several aspects of the House bill to go beyond the agenda he set for the special session.
"I thought the differences were narrow between the House and Senate," Nixon said. But "last week's act by the House has broadened those differences."
Nixon has been urging lawmakers to either settle their differences soon or end the special session.
"The taxpayers are paying them for this special session, and the taxpayers deserve action, and they deserve it now," Nixon said.