Business bill dead as Mo. Senate session adjourns

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Legislation offering new tax incentives to businesses officially died Tuesday as the Missouri Senate ended a special legislative session without accomplishing its primary objective.

The Senate permanently adjourned the session that began Sept. 6 without giving final approval to the marquee legislation that would have scaled back many of Missouri's existing tax credits while offering new incentives to spur international trade at the St. Louis airport, attract big-time amateur sports events and encourage the construction of computer data centers.

The Missouri House has not quit but has nothing left to do. Negotiations between the two chambers broke down some time ago, and the House majority leader said Tuesday that he plans to let the special session simply expire automatically Nov. 5. Even if it wanted to do so, the House no longer can send the business incentive bill to the governor, because the bill was in the physical custody of the Senate when it adjourned.

"It's dead," confirmed Senate Secretary Terry Spieler.

The end of the economic development bill came in a rather unceremonious fashion. Only Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, were in the chamber Tuesday to execute the final action. In a mere 40 seconds, Mayer gaveled the two of them into session and called upon Dempsey, who made the motion to adjourn and then voted for it. With that, Mayer gaveled the session to a close.

"We adjourned," Mayer explained later to more than a dozen reporters, "because obviously the House and Senate are miles apart on the different versions that they passed of the economic development bill and it would be fruitless to continue onward and waste the taxpayers' money."

The adjournment was no surprise; Mayer had said last week that the Senate would officially quit.

The special session has cost the state about $280,000. Just two bills ultimately passed and were signed by the governor. One repealed and replaced a contentious law passed earlier this year that had restricted teacher-student communications over the Internet. The other bill created a new incentive fund for science and technology companies, but its legality is uncertain because it contained a contingency clause declaring it was effective only if the separate, broader business-incentive bill also passed, which it did not.

Ultimately, the chief sticking point between the House and Senate was whether to impose a 2018 expiration date on two existing tax credits for developers of low-income housing and the renovation of historic buildings. The Senate insisted that the two programs, which waived a combined $250 million of taxes last year, needed so-called "sunset clauses" to save money in future state budgets. The House expressed concern that the expiration dates would make it too easy for a future filibustering senator to kill legislation reauthorizing the programs, which they defended as worthwhile.

House Majority Leader Tim Jones blamed Mayer for the session-ending stalemate and described the disagreement over program expiration dates as an "excuse" for quitting.

"We were always willing to continue working on the economic development bill," Jones, R-Eureka, said Tuesday.

Republican House and Senate leaders had traveled the state in July proclaiming they had a deal on an economic development bill and urging Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon to call them into special session. Republicans hold a 26-8 majority over Democrats in the Senate and a 105-54 majority in the House with four vacancies, meaning they could pass virtually anything they desired. But the pre-session deal quickly disintegrated once the session began as Republicans divided among themselves.

"This fiasco will go down in Missouri Capitol lore as the Lost Legislative Session," said House Minority Leader Mike Talboy, D-Kansas City. "Missouri taxpayers lost more than a quarter-million dollars on a do-nothing special session; and GOP legislative leaders lost their credibility."

The Legislature could make another attempt to pass an economic development bill during the regular session that runs from January to mid-May. But the bill would have to start from the beginning of the legislative process. Neither the House nor Senate leaders sounded too optimistic Tuesday that their differences would be resolved.

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