JEFFERSON CITY • With a special session on the possible impeachment of Gov. Eric Greitens looming, Missouri lawmakers wrapped up their regular business Friday with a focus on cutting taxes and bolstering business interests.
Concluding a four-month session that has largely played second fiddle to the governor’s struggles, the Republican-controlled Legislature approved a handful of high-profile initiatives on their final day, including a corporate tax cut, a vote on a 10-cent hike in the gasoline tax and an overhaul of the state’s prevailing wage laws.
Following their 6 p.m. adjournment, the House and Senate quickly pivoted to the special session, but they took no action before sending lawmakers home. A special House committee investigating Greitens will continue meeting until it determines whether impeachment or some other discipline of the governor is warranted, and it was unclear when lawmakers would reconvene to consider the committee’s recommendation.
With Greitens largely out of the picture in the final two weeks because of his now-scuttled criminal trial, lawmakers approved a total of 142 bills, the most since 2014 and more than double the 70 approved last year when the first-year governor was more engaged in the legislative process.
Left undone were changes to the state’s civil justice system, the legalization of medical marijuana and a ban on lawmakers receiving gifts from lobbyists.
“It’s been a rough session,” said Rep. Jay Barnes, a Jefferson City Republican who has spent the session overseeing the committee investigating Greitens.
“This is a session that nobody expected,” added Assistant House Minority Leader Gina Mitten, D-Richmond Heights. “It has been a trying time for all of us.”
On a busy day when the two chambers acted on dozens of bills and resolutions, lawmakers approved a cut in the state’s corporate tax rate, which would drop to 4 percent, down from 6.25 percent. The change would go into effect in 2020.
Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, who sponsored the corporate tax plan, said the reduction in state revenue from the lower rate would be offset by a change in how companies calculate and pay their taxes.
The reduction was a compromise. Some had sought to cut the rate to 3.5 percent, but others were concerned that could blow a hole in the budget.
“I feel comfortable with this compromise,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob. “It represents a great change in corporate tax policy in our state.”
The corporate cut would be combined with a cut in the income tax rate for individual filers that is now on its way to the governor’s desk.
The income tax changes would reduce the individual income tax rate from 5.9 percent to 5.5 percent starting next year.
The individual income tax rate would gradually drop to 5.1 percent if the state meets revenue targets. To offset the expected loss in revenue, the proposal would phase out a federal income tax deduction.
While income taxes and corporate taxes are going down, lawmakers voted to place a question on the November ballot that will ask voters to incrementally raise Missouri’s fuel tax by 10 cents by July 1, 2022.
Missouri’s 17-cents-per-gallon fuel tax is among the lowest in the nation. A January report by a transportation tax force found that the buying power of fuel tax revenues — which pay for road upgrades — has eroded since the tax was last raised in the 1990s.
Missouri’s highway system, at 33,884 miles, is the seventh-largest in the country — yet the state ranks 47th in terms of revenue raised per mile, according to the task force report.
“I am glad to see that on the last day we’re finally getting to this,” said Rep. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, adding that there are projects across the state that need attention.
“We just can’t keep putting this off,” said Rep. Kathie Conway, R-St. Charles. “We need the funds. I can’t stress that enough to you.”
One opponent, state Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, noted that voters had rejected a sales tax increase to pay for road improvements in 2014.
“We’re increasing the revenues for the state and taking it out of the pockets of hardworking Americans,” he said.
Greitens did not hold a traditional post-session press conference. In a written statement, he said he favored many of the bills approved by lawmakers.
“I’m encouraged to see that so many of our shared priorities — reforms to our foster care system, protections for our veterans, new opportunities for Missouri students, important pro-jobs legislation, and more — are among the many accomplishments,” he said.
Legislative leaders called the session one of the best in recent memory.
“This session has been the most successful implementation of conservative reforms, bar none,” said House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff.
“My No. 1 goal for the last 16 years has been to encourage economic development across the state. I’m proud to announce, nearly every piece of legislation we passed this year helps Missouri set the framework for economic growth,” said Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin.
Lawmakers also gave final approval Friday to legislation changing the state’s prevailing wage law.
The proposal alters how wages are calculated on government construction projects. The measure moved through the Senate early Friday on a 22-9 vote and now goes to the governor’s desk.
Currently, local governments, such as schools, municipalities and counties, must pay a set wage for various maintenance and construction jobs. The amount, which is higher than the minimum wage, varies from county to county.
The changes would only affect projects costing more than $75,000.
Supporters said the proposal could help businesses lower inflated wages, while opponents said the changes in House Bill 1729 will hurt small contractors and workers.
Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, said the GOP agenda has hurt families.
“This agenda is destructive to our state and these bad policies will make balancing the budget and growing our economy much more difficult in the years to come,” Walsh said.
The House approved legislation that lifts the minimum age of marriage in Missouri to 16. The law also forbids anyone older than 21 years old from marrying anyone younger than 18.
“Missouri will no longer be a haven for underage marriages. We’re protecting children from predators,” said Rep. Jean Evans, R-Manchester, who sponsored the changed.
Also included in Senate Bill 655 is a provision that removes the statute of limitations for sex crimes in which the victim is a minor.
Lawmakers gave final approval to a measure that would allow people convicted of unlawful use of a weapon by carrying concealed firearms prior to Jan. 1, 2017, to have the conviction expunged from their records.
The measure is necessary, said House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, because the Legislature approved legislation allowing people to carry concealed firearms without a permit in 2016.
If they had carried a firearm in public today “they wouldn’t have committed a crime,” Beatty said. “This is about giving folks second chances.”
Under Senate Bill 954, people would not be able to have the conviction removed from their record if they were found guilty of other violent felonies or misdemeanors during the same criminal case, Beatty said.
Sky Chadde of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.