JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers were seeking additional information as they started work Monday on an incentives package aimed at winning production of Boeing's new 777X commercial airplane.
A special legislative session called by Gov. Jay Nixon convened at the Capitol with introduction of legislation in the House and Senate.
Nixon called the session Friday to approve a package of up to $150 million annually for "large scale aerospace projects" offered through four existing state programs that help finance job training and infrastructure improvements and reward companies for expanding their payrolls.
Lawmakers need to act quickly because the state faces a Dec. 10 deadline to submit a proposal to the Boeing Co., Nixon said. The company said it sent requests for proposals to more than a dozen places and that it will look at them all when they come back in mid-December. The governor's office said the request Missouri received from Boeing is subject to a nondisclosure agreement.
Nixon met with the House and Senate Republican caucuses before the start of the special session and said the discussion was thoughtful and productive.
"I would not have called them back into session if I didn't think this was important to do," Nixon said. "I think providing us the option to put our best foot forward to compete for (these) transformational jobs is important. And I think we have put forward a plan using existing Missouri plans that will do that in a way that is very taxpayer-friendly."
Legislative leaders generally have indicated support for the governor's Boeing project but said more information will be needed.
House Speaker Tim Jones said there are unanswered questions about the total cost and about the state's expected return. He noted no taxpayer funds would be spent if Missouri does not land it.
"If we can increase manufacturing jobs and production here in the state of Missouri, that is an extremely positive thing," said Jones, R-Eureka. "It has to be balanced, though, against what is fiscally responsible for the taxpayers as well. So I would say we're cautious at this time. We're excited about the opportunity that we're even being considered, but we're cautious until we have all the facts."
Hearings are scheduled Tuesday evening. Rep. Anne Zerr, R-St. Charles, sponsored the House legislation, and the Senate measure is sponsored by Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County. He said Missouri has a chance to bid on a project involving thousands of jobs.
Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey said Monday that lawmakers are being brought up to speed quickly and want to feel comfortable with the measure. At least one lawmaker last week objected following Nixon's special session call.
"We have a caucus that wants more information from the governor, which he said would be forthcoming, to make sure that taxpayers are being protected," Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said.
Boeing started talks with several locations about production of the 777X after union machinists in Washington state rejected a proposed contract that sought concessions. Nixon met with Boeing executives in St. Louis, and officials in Alabama, California, South Carolina, Texas and Utah are among those who have discussed trying to entice the company. Washington state approved a package of tax breaks valued at $9 billion through 2040 during a November special session.
Boeing employs about 15,000 people in Missouri, including thousands of machinists in the St. Louis region.
Missouri's special session comes about a month before the legislature starts its regular session Jan. 8, 2014. A special session permits the governor to limit what can be considered — in this case the airplane incentives.
Missouri previously has approved large state incentives packages aimed at specific industries.
In 2008, lawmakers authorized $240 million in tax credits for Bombardier Aerospace to build passenger jets near Kansas City International Airport, but the company chose to manufacture them near its Montreal headquarters. In 2010, the state legislature passed up to $150 million in incentives over a decade for the automotive industry during a special session. That has been used by Ford and General Motors to expand production in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas.