JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House voted 127-20 on Friday to approve an incentive package to attract a Boeing assembly plant to the state.
Of the Boone County representatives, Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, was the lone "no" vote, saying tax credits would be better used to help Columbia small-business owners.
Now, the $150 million annual offer is up for Boeing’s consideration. The state Senate approved the bill Wednesday in a 23-8 vote.
The bill ties state tax credits to the number of jobs Boeing would create if it chooses to produce its 777X aircraft in Missouri. Boeing is already the fourth-largest private-sector employer in the state, with about 15,000 employees in Missouri, according to an Associated Press report.
The company offered invitations to more than a dozen states to bid on the plant. By Gov. Jay Nixon’s request, the legislature convened Monday in a special session to quickly craft an incentive package.
Several representatives from the St. Louis area, where Boeing produces military aircraft, said Missouri should not pass up the economic opportunity a Boeing plant offers.
“There is a word that was uttered more than any other word last session,” Rep. Vicki Englund, D-St. Louis, said. “It starts with a J and ends with an O-B-S.”
Englund said the economic benefits of thousands of new jobs would benefit the whole state, not solely the St. Louis area. She also said Boeing had a strong record of corporate citizenship — charity, training and hiring minorities — during its time in Missouri.
Rep. Doug Funderburk, R-St. Peters, is a Boeing employee. He said the legislature needed to think of the competition for the plant on a large scale, understanding that Boeing's main competitor is the European company Airbus.
“If we’re picking winners and losers here, the winner we’re picking is America, and American jobs," Funderburk said.
Webber stood up to voice his disapproval of the bill shortly after session began.
“There are a lot of hardworking business owners in Columbia that would really appreciate getting this tax deal,” Webber said during the debate.
Later, he said that he had not actually spoken with any Columbia small-business owners about the bill.
“I know small-business owners who work 60 hours a week," Webber said. "Boeing is a giant corporation that makes $40 billion a year in profit. I don’t know why they should get to pay less taxes than a Columbia owner that’s working hard, trying to grow their business.
"All I hear during session is people talking about small business being the backbone of the economy. So I don’t know why they would have to pay a higher tax rate.”
Webber said that the bill also went beyond just giving tax credits to Boeing.
“Not just zero taxes; we’d actually be paying them to move here," Webber said. "What Columbia business owner wouldn’t want the government to train workers for them and pay 90 percent of their employees’ salaries for them?”
Reps. Caleb Rowden, Caleb Jones and John Wright voted "yes" on the bill. Rep. Chris Kelly abstained.
Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-St. Louis, said that as a small-business owner, she knew firsthand how tax credits could buoy a business.
"Within five years, our business had grown from three greenhouses to an acre and a half only because of one program the government had, and that was a business tax credit," Haefner said. "This is a true story of how tax credit can move any business forward."
After stressing that Missouri is in competition with other states for Boeing, Haefner asked that her colleagues "think beyond" their views on tax credits for businesses.
"Think about the potential jobs that will be lost if we can't move this forward," Haefner said.
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