Special session ends quietly without governor's proposed tax

Saturday, September 13, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The Missouri House approved technical changes to a nursing home bill on Friday as it wrapped up a special session during which lawmakers rejected Gov. Bob Holden's tax proposals for education.

The House voted 151-1 to send Holden legislation intended to fix language in a new nursing home law that some feared could lead to the firing of numerous home health workers because of past legal troubles.

The legislation contains an emergency clause, which means it will go into effect immediately after the governor signs it.

The nursing home changes sailed easily through the legislature, unlike Holden's proposals to eliminate so-called tax loopholes that would have generated $44 million for education this year and about $80 million next fiscal year.

A Senate panel defeated the tax measures on Thursday while the House versions of the bill never received a hearing.

In the end, House Republican leaders said the special session was far from special.

"It has been a futile effort. This special session has not produced any results because the governor is unwilling to spend the money for education," House Speaker Catherine Hanaway said Friday.

Hanaway, R-Warson Woods, said Holden's budget withholdings of about $200 million from elementary and secondary education should be released to schools. Without that commitment, Hanaway said, "the attitude of the General Assembly has been to spend the money you have before coming to us asking for more."

Holden, however, contends the budget passed by the legislature was underfunded, forcing him to withhold the school appropriations to keep the budget in balance. Holden asked lawmakers to raise more revenues so he could release part of the appropriations he withheld.

Hanaway said it made little sense for lawmakers to hold hearings on the tax package because nearly identical proposals were rejected during a separate special session in June.

"We didn't want to plow the same ground," Hanaway said.

Holden, who made a brief stop in the House chamber on Friday, said he was disappointed lawmakers did not give serious consideration to his tax proposals.

"Democratic members are sad that they did nothing, nothing at all to protect the children of Missouri," Holden said. "This special session failed the children of this state."

Rep. Rick Johnson, D-High Ridge, said Democrats were not surprised that Republicans did not address the tax issues in the House.

"The door to the free market of ideas has been closed," Johnson said. "They're not willing to listen to anything."

The Senate also wrapped up the special session on Friday.

Sen. Michael Gibbons, the Senate majority floor leader, said the nursing home bill corrections were a positive step while the tax package proposal was a predictable flop.

"We confirmed that the legislature is not interested in doing nitpicking efforts to try and raise minimal amounts of taxes, and we solved a very real problem that was created in the nursing home bill that would have cost about 1,000 people their jobs," said Gibbons, R-Kirkwood.

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