Capitol Report, Oct. 14, 2011

In Legislative News, Missouri Press News On
- Updated

This is the weekly Capitol Report from the State Government Reporting Program of the Missouri School of Journalism. You may use as much of it as you wish without further permission.

NOTE: Program director Phill Brooks’ column, Capitol Perspectives, is attached to the bottom of the Capitol Report. They are TWO DIFFERENT columns.

Capitol Report — a news report
Capitol Perspectives — analysis column

Phill Brooks, who writes the Perspectives column, should not be given byline credit for writing the Capitol Report, which is done by his students.

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Go to http://www.mdn.org/mpanews for the latest version.

+ China hub and tax credit bill debate is to carry over into next week [Entered: 10/11/2011]

Any sort of resolution to the Missouri legislature’s special session is going to take at least another week.

After a Republican caucus Tuesday [Oct. 11] afternoon, the Senate’s top leader said the chamber would put off until Monday [Oct. 17] any vote on what to do with the House-passed version of the package of business tax breaks.

The next day, the House delayed until Wednesday [Oct. 19] making any decision on the Senate’s action.

The special session will adjourn no later than Nov. 4 under a provision in the state constitution that limits a special session to 60 days.

Each chamber has passed its own version of a bill that started as a proposal promoted by the governor to provide $360 million in tax breaks for an air cargo transport hub in St. Louis.

The Senate added termination dates on major tax credit programs for developers. The House added a corporate income tax cut.

One of the few areas of agreement between the two chambers involves backing away from the original China hub package. The versions passed by both chambers strip the China hub tax breaks down to just $60 million for companies that facilitate shipment of cargo for international export from St. Louis.

The major difference between the two versions of the bill involves tax credits. The Senate’s version would set termination dates — called sunsets — on laws providing tax-break credits for developers. Among the biggest programs are tax credits for construction of low-income housing and renovation of historic buildings. The House, however, rejected by an overwhelming majority the idea of sunsets on those programs.

After the House vote, Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer reaffirmed his vow that any bill without those sunsets would be “dead on arrival” in the Senate.

At issue between the two chambers is whether to agree to submit the issue to a House-Senate negotiating committee comprising five members from each chamber. Included in the issue will be whether either chamber seeks to require the conferees to sustain the chamber’s position on tax credit sunsets.

Get the full text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/SENSUN.HTM]

Get the radio story. [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/SESSEND.HTM]

Get the radio story. [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/SPECSES.HTM]

+ Eliminating Missouri’s presidential primary becomes a special session issue. [Entered: 10/14/2011]

The top leader of Missouri’s Senate told reporters Tuesday [Oct. 11] that his chamber would debate Monday [Oct. 17] eliminating Missouri’s presidential primary.

Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer’s comments came after a closed-door caucus of Senate Republicans to discuss how to proceed with the legislature’s special session.

The governor had urged legislators to change the primary date from February to March. Both national political parties have warned states that not all their delegates might be seated if held early primaries.

The House passed the idea, but Mayer said the issue before the Senate would be a repeal of the presidential primary.

In a session with reporters after the closed GOP caucus, Mayer said repeal would save the state at least $6 million in statewide election costs.

Secretary of State Robin Carnahan issues a written statement urging legislators to retain the primary, calling repeal of the primary “a step in the wrong direction.”

Carnahan, a Democrat, calls the idea “wrong-headed.” She said eliminating the primary would not allow ordinary Missourians to voice their presidential preferences..

Earlier this fall, the state Republican Party voted to abandon the primary and return to the caucus system for selecting delegates to the GOP national convention.

+ Missouri Senate grills economic development officials on Mamtek bonds [Entered: 10/11/2011]

A member of the state Department of Economic Development signed off on tax-exempt bonds funding the failed Mamtek facility, the department official told the Committee on Governmental Accountability on Tuesday [Oct. 11].

The committee’s meeting continued its investigation into Missouri government’s role in the deal with China-based company Mamtek and other economic development projects.

Missouri senators questioned Gov. Jay Nixon’s economic development department officials on why it put its stamp of approval on tax-exempt bonds funding the Mamtek project, which sapped funds from the city of Moberly’s reserve fund when Mamtek defaulted on its bond payment and backed out of the deal.

The committee heard testimonies to figure out if and when the visas for Chinese investors, also called EB-5 visas, and tax-exempt bonds that were offered by Mamtek can be used effectively for funding economic development projects.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, asked Sallie Hemenway and Chris Pieper from the Department of Economic Development what they did to ensure due diligence before giving Mamtek tax-exempt bonds. They said they would supply that information with other requested documents in the near future.

“As we get the documentation that we requested from the department that we would see some level of confirmation that was done. And I think based on today, we’re not really sure until we see those documents,” Schaefer said.

The Department of Economic Development puts a stamp of approval on tax-exempt bonds, and Hemenway said she was the one who signed off on the status for use to fund the failed Mamtek project in Moberly.

The two witnesses said they originally gave the tax-exempt status to Mamtek based mostly on a readiness to close on the deal, although they also considered the potential for job creation and investment.

Schaefer said he is concerned that if they’re defaulted on, tax-exempt bonds could create heightened scrutiny on municipal bonds coming out of Missouri in the future. He said he has talked to professionals who would argue that the default has already lowered Missouri’s bond rating.

Get the full text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/MAMTEK11.HTM]

[By: Ashley Massow[Email: armgy5@mail.missouri.edu, Cell: 847-858-1906)]

+ Fourth Missouri listeria case confirmed [Entered: 10/11/2011]

Bacteria from Colorado cantaloupe has infected a fourth person with listeria in Missouri, the state Department of Health and Senior Services confirmed Tuesday [Oct. 11].

The most recent victim is in northwest Missouri, state officials said in a news release. Three other cases have been reported in eastern and southwestern regions of the state.

So far, all those infected in Missouri have been hospitalized and one, an unidentified 94-year-old, died from the infected fruit.

All cantaloupes from Jensen Farms of Holly, Colo., have already been recalled.

However, health officials urged consumers to look out for any fruit from the farm shipped between July 29 and Sept. 10.

[By: Scott Kanowsky[Email: scottkanowsky@gmail.com]

+ Ameren Missouri, electric providers talk federal energy [Entered: 10/11/2011]

Ameren Missouri met with officials from every Missouri electricity provider Tuesday about ways to meet certain federal energy regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency, including limits to air pollution between states..

Warren Wood, the vice president of Ameren Missouri, said the creation of Ameren’s desired new nuclear power plant in Callaway County wasn’t on the table at the meeting. But Wood said the fight to create the power plant — known as Callaway Two — is not over.

“There’s a great deal of interest in economic development, jobs, reliable, affordable power for the future, and I think the subject of Callaway Two is going to come up because it’s an important option for the future,” Wood said.

A law prohibiting public financing of ongoing energy construction projects has been the main obstacle to Callaway Two’s creation. An amendment to a jobs bill repealing this law died in the Missouri House last week.

Get the radio story. [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/AMLOBBS.HTM]

[By: Scott Kanowsky[Email: scottkanowsky@gmail.com]

+ Capitol Perspectives: The Return of Bipartisanship [Entered: 10/14/2011]

While the news from Congress in Washington has been dominated by what seems to be near-partisan gridlock, here in Missouri’s statehouse there’s been a bit of a return to bipartisanship.

For example, at the start of the year, the Republican House speaker named three Democrats to chair committees. It is the largest number of minority party members to chair House committees in more than half a century; it might be the largest number in the state’s history.

Just a few weeks ago, the Republican Senate president pro tem credited the Senate’s Democratic leader with helping convince him to not immediately shut down the special session to give the China hub bill another chance.

The easing of partisan tensions began in the Senate a few years ago when a group of three Republican senators worked out an agreement with Democrats to avoid bitter, partisan filibusters and the resulting Republican motions to shut off debate. The current Republican leader, Tom Dempsey, was one of those three who committed to support not shutting off debate if Democrats were willing to negotiate.

It ended a period that began in the early 1990s of ugly filibusters and partisan division in the Senate. It got so ugly that even a few staff complained privately that it had become an unpleasant place to work.

The dominance of partisan bickering represented a historic change for the Senate.

The House has been a partisan body for years, with frequent party-line votes and the majority party regularly using its powers to shut off debate by the minority party. A House speaker pro tem decades ago, Pat Hickey, used to say there was no purpose in having power unless you used it.

But the Senate had been different. Whether a member was Republican or Democrat was less important than seniority, skills and geography. Republican Dick Webster often was cited as one of the more influential members in a body that was dominated by Democrats.

Republicans and Democrats regularly socialized together. In his second term, Republican Gov. Kit Bond joined in for an evening of drinking one night a week during the legislative sessions — usually in a Democratic senator’s fourth-floor office.

Back in those days, party affiliation did not so clearly define ideology. Some of the most strident conservatives were Democrats. It was the Democratic president pro tem Earl Blackwell who led the fight against the Democratic governor’s efforts to raise the income tax. Leading Senate opponents to ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment included the Judiciary Committee chairman and one of the chamber’s few female senators, Mary Gant — both Democrats.

The decline of that conservative voice within the Democratic caucus, along with the increasing ideological purity among Republicans, are among the factors that contributed to the heightened partisanship that emerged in the 1990s.

At one point, I coined the phrase “I-70 Democrats” because every Senate member lived just a few miles from the interstate in St. Louis, Kansas City or Columbia and represented an urban-oriented, liberal philosophy. The rural, conservative heart of Democratic caucus that had dominated the Senate was nearly extinct. They’re not completely gone (the current Senate Democratic leader Victor Callahan is more conservative on some issues than many Republican members), but they’re a mere shadow of what they once had been.

Politics played a role as Republicans saw they had a real chance to capture control of the General Assembly and sought to define party differences for the voters.

And, of course, legislative term limits have been a huge factor. Term limits wiped out a number of long-term rural, conservative Democrats. Now with the frequent turnover from term limits, you don’t see the type of long-term friendships that had developed among members across party lines.

I’ve heard a couple of explanations for the more recent return to a more bipartisan and collegial atmosphere.

Some argue that with their diminished numbers, Democrats realize they have to “get along” to have a significant role in crafting legislation rather than being obstructions. At one time, Senate Democratic Leader Ken Jacob openly described his role as stalling what he saw as a conservative agenda being pushed by the GOP majority.

Since Jacob, however, Senate Democratic leaders have taken a much more collaborative role with the majority Republican leadership. Among those around in the earlier years, I sensed a clear desire to avoid returning to those nasty partisan fights that had created such an uncomfortable environment in the Senate.

But next year will be an election year, and that can present some irresistible temptations, if not demands, for playing politics in the legislature.

As always, let me know (at column@mdn.org) if you have any comments. If you would like your comments, or a portion of them, included in a future column, let me know and be sure to include your full name in your email.

Past columns are available at http://www.mdn.org/mpacol. [ http://www.mdn.org/mpacol ]

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