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Nixon says Legislature must act if Missouri is to retain auto industry

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 6, 2010 - Gov. Jay Nixon asserted today that "this is the week'' when the Legislature determines by its actions whether it will encourage Ford Motor Co. to keep its plant in suburban Kansas City, or move to another state offering incentives.

But the official word from both chambers this afternoon is that any substantive action will be delayed until next week.

While the state House and Senate have "technical sessions'' slated for Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, no substantive action or votes will take place this week, spokeswomen said.

The Senate -- where the incentive package got derailed last week -- is delaying any new action on the matter until next Tuesday, a spokeswoman said.

The House, which already passed an incentive bill -- and a related measure with changes in state pensions -- is waiting on the Senate.

Nixon says issue is whether Missouri will keep auto-making jobs

Both chambers went into special session almost two weeks ago to consider the Ford incentive plan, which is part of a broader bill that calls for $15 million a year in tax breaks for the auto industry for up to 10 years if new jobs are created. The measure is aimed largely at encouraging Ford to retain its Claycomo plant near Kansas City and to expand its operations.

The bill got blocked in the Senate when state Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield and a candidate for the U.S. Senate, said he objected to the incentives and wouldn't allow its consideration by the Senate Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee, which he chairs. Purgason's action prevents any votes on the Senate floor.

Nixon, a former state senator, said today that there have been behind-the-scenes talks over the holiday week, although he declined to be specific. He also declined comment on rumors that Senate GOP leaders -- who support the incentive plan -- might attempt some action to skirt Purgason, such as removing him as the committee chairman.

Nixon quipped that the Senate is "on a whole different floor from mine."

But then he added that failure of the Legislature to act on the incentive proposal is no laughing matter.

The governor said, "I certainly disagree with some of the characterizations'' made by critics (Nixon did not name Purgason), who implied that Missouri was spending money to help Ford.

He then emphasized that no state money was going directly to Ford or any other auto manufacturer. Rather, he said, the companies would pay fewer state taxes on any new jobs they create.

No new jobs means no state incentives, Nixon said.

The governor then passionately sought to make his point that Missouri faces the loss of thousands of good-paying jobs if the measure is not enacted. Missouri once had been one of the nation's biggest auto-making centers, before General Motors, Chrysler and Ford closed, scaled down or moved operations. The St. Louis area has been particularly hard hit over the past few years.

Nixon asserted that the Legislature's failure to act on the incentive proposal during its regular session, which ended May 14, has prompted other states to come up with inducements to encourage Ford to move its remaining operations out of Missouri.

"We've got a choice in this state,'' Nixon said. "Cars will be made in the United States."

The only question, he added, is whether any "are made in Missouri."

Governor signs bill outlawing K2, some steroids

Nixon made his comments after he participated in a ceremonial bill signing in O'Fallon of a measure that outlaws posession of a synthetic substance called "K2'' that provides users with a "high'' similar to marijuana. K2 is a mixture of dried herbs that is sprayed with a synthetic substance similar to the active ingredient in marijuana.

As his staff points out, "Beginning Aug. 28, possession of 35 grams or less of K2 will be a Class A misdemeanor, and possession of more than 35 grams will be a Class C felony."

A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine; a Class C felony is punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Nixon was joined by law enforcement officials and legislators from St. Charles and Jefferson counties for the ceremony, held at the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department. Possession or sale of K2 already has been banned by local ordinance in St. Charles and some other counties.

Said the governor: “K2 has been associated with serious health risks such as increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, vomiting, hallucinations, tremors and possibly seizures, Most alarming is that health care providers and poison control centers are seeing increased use of K2 by children. It is unsafe and has serious potential for abuse, especially by children."

The bill also adds certain steroids, painkillers, sedatives and nitrites (known as “poppers”) to Missouri’s controlled substance list, which Nixon said was needed to match the federal controlled substance list.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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