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Nixon says special-session deal struck to aid Ford, drop any MOSERS changes

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 9, 2010 - Gov. Jay Nixon said today he believes that a legislative deal has been struck "on a general plan to advance a bill to bring next-generation automotive jobs to Missouri" and, presumably, end a special-session stalemate that stalled incentives to encourage Ford Motor Co. to keep its production plant near Kansas City.

As part of that deal, Nixon says a proposal to change the investment operations at the Missouri State Employees Retirement System (MOSERS) "is beyond the score of this extraordinary session."

That means the Legislature can't consider the longstanding proposal by state Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, that calls for creating a new investment board to handle MOSERS' investments.

Nixon said lawmakers also cannot consider another plan that calls for extending incentives to data centers, in the hopes of attracting a major operation to Columbia, Mo.

Nixon's announcement would appear to cast doubt on Tuesday's Senate schedule, which first calls for Crowell's measure to be considered by the Senate Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee, which screens bills for their cost before they go before the full Senate.

The committee's chairman is state Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield and a candidate for the U.S. Senate, who blocked the Ford incentive measure last week.

Said Nixon, a Democrat, in a statement today:

"This morning, I convened a conference call with bipartisan legislative leadership during which we agreed on a general plan to advance our shared priority of bringing next-generation automotive jobs to Missouri," the governor said. "The automotive-manufacturing industry touches every corner of Missouri, and it’s vital that we work quickly to bring the jobs of the future to our state.

"From the beginning, there has been agreement that we must offset the costs of these critical incentives for our automotive industry, and that reforming the state employee pension system is an effective way to do so. On today’s call, I clarified that the issue of transferring the investment responsibilities of the MOSERS board and the MPERS board to a dedicated investment board is beyond the scope of this extraordinary session. Additionally, I reiterated that creating new economic incentives for data centers exceeds the scope of this session. These are both important issues worthy of additional discussion and consideration, but they do not fit within the narrow parameters of this extraordinary session.

"I look forward to having the General Assembly reconvene next week to finish its work on these vital priorities. At this critical time, we must stand together to bring next-generation automotive jobs to Missouri, and we must do so in a cost-effective way for the people of our state. This agreement is a key step toward that important goal."

Purgason said in an interview Thursday night that his objections remain regarding the Ford aid and state tax incentives. He says the state can't afford the aid and should either drop all corporate incentives -- or extend the same help to all small businesses.

To skirt Purgason, Senate GOP leaders either need to remove him as chairman or get 12 state senators to sign a petition discharging the Ford measure from his committee.

Purgason said with a chuckle Thursday night: "I'm sure they're plotting, but I'm not in on it."

Judging from the governor's announcement, Purgason may be right.

UPDATE: State House Speaker Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said in a statement this afternoon that the state House will go into session only after -- and if -- the Senate takes care of its internal disputes.

"After productive conversations with the Senate and the Governor this morning, we are hopeful that both the jobs and pension bills will be sent to the House by the Senate by the middle of next week," Richard said. "In an effort to act as efficiently as possible, the House has taken the position not to call our members back to the building for a vote unless we have strong assurance that the Senate intends to complete its actions and send us both the pension bill and the Manufacturing Jobs Act.

The speaker added, "The House remains committed to job creation, efficient use of time and the conservation of tax-payer dollars throughout the process of this Special Session."

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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