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Rift between GOP legislators, governor may jeopardize special session

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 16, 2011 - Missouri's two top legislative leaders -- state House Speaker Steve Tilley and Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer -- have jointly sent a letter chastising Gov. Jay Nixon for failing to set specific dates, or topics, for the special session.

Although the governor has said the session will focus on economic development, he also has ;yet to be specific on exactly what pieces of legislation will be on the table.

"It has been nearly four weeks since your announcement of a special session and we still have not seen any language or even a draft of your call," the duo complained.

The two Republicans also are upset that Nixon, a Democrat, has decreed that changes in a tax credit program affecting St. Louis developer Paul McKee would not be part of the session.

A spokesman for the governor said planning for the special session is on track, with the details to be announced shortly.

The letter from Mayer and Tilley is noteworthy because it comes less than a month after legislators and business leaders conducted a buoyant tour of the state to declare they had reached agreement on an economic development package. Such a deal had foundered during the final days of the regular legislative session that ended May 13.

Nixon had jubilantly announced a day later that he was calling a special session in September. But he put his foot down 10 days ago, declaring that the McKee-related proposals would not be part of the session.

In the letter sent today, Tilley and Mayer complained that Nixon needs to set the specific dates. They noted that the General Assembly is "a citizen legislature and many members will have to leave their farms, small businesses and families'' to be in the state Capitol for the session.

Nixon has said the special session would be in conjunction with the legislature's annual veto session, set to begin Sept. 14. But he has not been clear as to whether the special session would be held before or after the veto session. By law, the governor also sets the perameters on what matters will be considered.

Said Nixon communications director Sam Murphy in a statement today: "As we finalize the language of the call, we are working directly with members in both the House and the Senate with policy expertise to ensure that we have a crisp and focused special session to pass legislation to create jobs, finance disaster recovery and ensure that taxpayer dollars are invested responsibly. Every week spent in a special session has a significant cost to taxpayers, so we want to make sure the General Assembly can complete its work in the most efficient and effective manner possible. We are on track to begin the special session in early September."

Mayer and Tilley wrote that they were particularly disturbed by Nixon's reasoning for tossing out any discussion of the McKee-related issue.

"You unilaterally announced, via press release, that you were exempting land assemblage from the reform bill," the duo wrote. "There are many among us who believe that this energetic, but familiar attack was designed to cast doubt on the overall soundness of our compromise and to make it easier for you to work against other provisions of the legislation that are objectionable to you. Whatever your motives, we both feel that your continuing personal agenda, against an individual developer, and his transformative inner city project, has no place in this debate and should impact the overall priority of tax credit reform."

Mayer and Tilley are referring to McKee, a developer who has purchased large tracts of land for redevelopment in north St. Louis. Proposed changes in the provisions of the state's distressed areas land assemblage tax credit -- now blocked by Nixon -- would allow McKee to collect millions of dollars in credits over a longer period.

The state Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of $28 million in tax credits already due McKee.

For Both Sides, Job Creation Has Gotten Political

Tilley and Mayer wrote that it already will be difficult during a short special session to pass "the most sweeping jobs and fiscal accountability legislation ever attempted... We will fail, however, if you continue to exclude items because of a narrow personal bias or if you fail to communicate to our offices, except by press release, on the scope and content of the call.

"You cannot expect us to succeed if you exempt critical reforms and ignore months of work that both House and Senate leaders have spent to write this historic legislation. The people of our great state expect more from its elected leadership," the duo wrote.

They then reaffirmed the bipartisan seriousness of the job-creation issue -- but stuck in a few partisan jabs.

"As you know, Missouri had the third worse job loss rate in the country last year. This month alone, Kansas City and St. Louis ranked as the No. 1 and No. 2 cities with the greatest loss in home values," they wrote. "Texas and many other states are creating jobs and growing their economy. It is time to quit blaming everything on Washington or waiting for them to bail us out."

The Missouri Democratic Party, in a move unrelated to the letter, countered with its own missive this afternoon highlighting Missouri's national status as among the "top 10 pro-business states,'' according to a new industry study.

"Even national Republicans are drawing attention to Missouri's status as a top 10 pro-business state under Gov. Jay Nixon's leadership," the party wrote. "Earlier this year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranked Missouri as the 7th-best state to do business because of its friendly tax and regulatory climate."

The campaign also quoted a paragraph from the Southeast Missourian newspaper, which reported, "Missouri's unemployment rate at 8.7 percent, its lowest point since March 2009 and down eight-tenths of a point since the beginning of 2011. That's also lower than the national average at 9.1 percent. Missouri's exports through the first two quarters of 2011 are up 13 percent over 2010's totals, which set a state record."

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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