Missouri lawmakers part ways on business incentive bill

Sunday, September 25, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri lawmakers sent Gov. Jay Nixon a bill creating an incentive fund for science-based companies but parted ways Friday without agreeing on a broader overhaul of the state's business enticements that had been marketed as the marquee issue of a special legislative session.

Although lawmakers did not permanently adjourn the special session, they have not scheduled any further debates or votes and gave little indication that they even desire to keep negotiating on a sweeping plan that would curtail many of Missouri's existing tax credits and offer new incentives for businesses that hire employees and ship international exports through the St. Louis airport.

Nixon said he remains hopeful that their differences can be resolved before the special session reaches its mandatory adjournment in early November. But at a Capitol news conference, the governor said lawmakers had fallen short on their duties.

Nixon directed most of his displeasure at the House, noting that the Senate had passed a bipartisan bill revamping Missouri's business incentives but that the House never advanced its version out of a committee, much less took a vote by the full chamber. House leaders said they first wanted to negotiate a compromise with the Senate before bringing the bill up for a vote, but Republican leaders from the two chambers refused to budge on a variety of items under negotiation.

The Senate adjourned until Monday and the House until Thursday. But both chambers are merely scheduled to hold technical sessions in which only one or two lawmakers show up -- a move that prevents the session from automatically lapsing. Legislative leaders said they plan to continue stringing the session along in such fashion unless a consensus forms on the economic development legislation, when other lawmakers could be brought back for a vote.

"The special session remains open," said House Majority Leader Tim Jones, R-Eureka. But he added: "I am not confident at this time that there will be any further progress."

Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said there was no reason for the full Senate to come back to the Capitol unless the House first passes its own version of the bill.

The stalemate over the job-incentive legislation also has scuttled other bills that Nixon placed on the agenda for the special session, including a change to Missouri's presidential primary date, an amnesty period for overdue taxpayers and power shift that would give St. Louis officials -- instead of an appointed board -- control over the city's police force.

Even the one business-related bill that did pass the legislature may ultimately be doomed. That's because the bill offering incentives for science-based companies contains wording making it contingent upon the enactment of the broader business-incentive bill. Some lawmakers said that if Nixon signs the science bill into law, it could become subject to a lawsuit challenging whether the contingency clause is constitutional.

The bill would set up a special fund overseen by the Missouri Technology Corp. to offer incentives to "science and innovation" companies, which are broadly defined to cover firms conducting research or making products related to agricultural biotechnology, veterinary medicine, biochemistry, energy or environmental issues, forestry, homeland security, information technology, medical devices, microbiology and pharmaceuticals, among other things.

The program would be financed by annual transfers from state revenue equal to a percentage of the growth in the wages paid to employees of existing science-based companies, using 2010 as a base year for the calculations.

There was little debate about the merits of what is touted as the Missouri Science and Innovation Reinvestment Act. Rather, most of Friday's House debate focused on whether the legislation contained sufficient protections to prevent money from being directed to organizations conducting human embryonic stem-cell research. The House passed the bill 94-48. The Senate passed it earlier this month on a 30-4 vote.

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