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Nixon says job-creation is top priority, with or without Washington aid

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 4, 2011 - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon spent this morning at Katalyst Surgical LLC, a start-up firm in Chesterfield that manufactures innovative surgical tools. He said there that he wanted the General Assembly to approve a special job-creation fund -- the Missouri Science Innovation and Reinvestment Act -- that he says will encourage more high-tech jobs in scientific and medical fields.

Known as MOSIRA, the proposal is among several that make up what Nixon calls a "focused, ambitious and bipartisan jobs package" that he hopes will be embraced by the Republican-controlled state House and Senate during a special session he has called for mid-September.

The cornerstone of what he calls the "Made in Missouri'' package will be an emphasis on creating Missouri jobs.

A key provision of Nixon's plan calls for shrinking the state's existing tax credit programs, such as those encouraging historic preservation and low-income housing, and shifting that money into other job-creation programs.

They include a proposal to earmark up to $360 million in tax credits for construction and related efforts to persuade China to locate a cargo hub at Lambert St. Louis International Airport.

Nixon cited Missouri's slight improvement in recent employment numbers as evidence that his administration is seeing some success with its job-creation approach.

"This is about growing the economy," the governor said. "We're not going to cut our way to prosperity. We're going to grow our way to prosperity."

Nixon added that he will be focused on job creation and crafting state-government tools to that end, regardless of what Congress decides to do regarding federal finances. He was responding to press questions about how Missouri might be affected by the debt-reduction mandate that is part of the debt-ceiling hike that passed Congress earlier this week.

Nixon said that he and the General Assembly have "made the tough calls'' to balance Missouri's budgets during the three-year recession. He emphasized that the state, unlike the federal government, must have balanced budgets.

But those budgets have been balanced, in part, by the $4-plus billion in federal money -- much of it stimulus aid -- that the state has received since 2009.

While not disputing the Washington help, the governor told reporters that he isn't dwelling on it. When it comes to his top concerns, Nixon said, "The money we get from the federal government is pretty far down on my list."

(Even so, the governor did issue a statement Wednesday night lamenting that the federal government was cutting back on its financial help for tornado-ravaged Joplin, Mo., which will force the state to foot more of the costs.)

At today's news conference, Nixon later moderated his observations about Washington. "We will watch what they do,'' he said. "But our greater focus is on what we can do with the resources we have here."

He added with emphasis: "I'm worrying about things I can change. I'm not worrying about things that I can't."

Abortion Opponents Threaten to Block MOSIRA

But soon after the governor's event at Katalyst, another potential -- Missouri-based -- problem arose. Missoui Right to Life, the state's largest anti-abortion group, issued a statement warning that it will oppose MOSIRA unless any bill includes language that explicitly prohibits "abortion services, human cloning or embryonic stem cell research."

The group's definition of cloning includes some scientific research and procedures now allowed under federal law and under Amendment 2, which Missouri voters narrowly approved in 2006.

"Many life science research firms are cloning human embryonic stem cell lines in order to test the effect of various drug formulas," said state Right to Life president Pam Fichter.

Right to Life is concerned that Republican legislative leaders may not support the group's proposed language, Fichter said later in a email to the Beacon. (Fichter corrected the Beacon's original account of her group's assessment of its legislative support.)

Local Control May -- or May Not -- Be Considered

In response to reporters' questions, Nixon remained noncommital about some advocates' efforts to allow the General Assembly during the special session to consider whether to allow St. Louis to take back control of the city police department.

The state and the governor have controlled the department since the Civil War. A measure allowing local control passed the state House but died in the state Senate, because it got caught up as bargaining chip in the unrelated fight over state tax credits.

Said Nixon: "We're still talking about it."

He explained that he wanted the special session to remain focused on jobs and that he also wanted to keep the session short. "We want to have a crisp session that respects the cost to the taxpayer,'' the governor said.

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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