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Legislature ends special session with little to show
Legislature

Legislature ends special session with little to show

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Missouri State Capitol building

The Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City. Photo by J.B. Forbes of the Post-Dispatch

JEFFERSON CITY • Missouri's special legislative session on economic development ended quietly Tuesday without an economic bill, thanks to a deadlock over subsidies for developers.

Senate Republican leaders Rob Mayer and Tom Dempsey administered the last rites to the seven-week-long session. They were the only senators in the chamber at noon, when the Senate passed a motion to adjourn 'sine die," which means adjourning without setting a date to reassemble.

"The House and Senate are miles apart on the different versions of the economic development bill and it would be fruitless to continue onward and waste the taxpayers' money," Mayer, the president pro tem, said afterward.

The session, which began Sept. 6, cost taxpayers about $280,737 — $233,370 for the House and $46,367 for the Senate.

Most of the money went toward legislators' daily expense allowances when they were in the Capitol. As of Oct. 1, they draw $104 a day to cover lodging and meals.

In the end, the only products of the session were: a bill repealing social media restrictions between teachers and students; a bill setting aside money for science startups, but only after the funding mechanism faces a likely court challenge; and a lot of ill will.

Gov. Jay Nixon called the session so as to weigh a sweeping bill that would have scaled back some tax credits while setting up a few new ones, such as incentives to develop an air freight hub in St. Louis, lure computer data centers to the state and draw amateur sports events such as the NCAA Men's Final Four.

Republican leaders of the House and Senate agreed on the outlines of the tax credit bill after private negotiations in July.

But that deal dissipated in September when what Mayer described as powerful forces began attacking the bill from many directions.

After scaling back the China hub incentives and making other changes, the Senate passed a bill that would have saved the state an estimated $1 billion. Then the House made major revisions, such as adding a corporate tax cut and a sales tax holiday for U.S.-made products.

In the end, the biggest sticking point between the two chambers was whether to put sunsets, or expiration dates, on tax credits that fund historic preservation and low-income housing development.

Together, the two development programs cost the state more than $250 million a year.

The Senate wants to rein them in by placing 2018 sunsets on them. Mayer, R-Dexter, noted that most other tax credits already have sunsets, which trigger reviews and the elimination of a program if it is not renewed.

Without such controls, he said, tax credits function as "entitlements," flowing automatically to those who are eligible, even if state revenue is slumping.

"At some point, there needs to be reform," he said. "They need to be reined in. Certainly a seven-year sunset is not an unreasonable proposal."

The House opposes sunsets. The main reason, according to Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, is that a single senator who didn't like a particular developer could filibuster a bill renewing a tax credit program.

Last week, the House asked for a conference committee with the Senate. But Mayer said Tilley has refused to say what it would take to get the House to accept sunsets. Without movement on that issue, negotiations would be fruitless, Mayer said.

The adjournment motion was approved on a voice vote, with only Dempsey saying "aye." Republicans control the Senate 26-8 and had agreed to that move in a closed caucus last week.

Legislators will return in January for their regular session.

In the meantime, the end of the special session could give momentum to an initiative petition drive to ask state voters to give St. Louis control of the city Police Department.

For the second time, that bill was held hostage and died when the tax credit bill died. Retired investment banker Rex Sinquefield is bankrolling the local control petition drive.

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