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Special session to start Sept. 6, include local control of St. Louis police

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 23, 2011 - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has formally called a special session of the General Assembly, to begin Sept. 6, that will focus largely on specific proposals aimed at helping the state's economy by encouraging the creation of jobs.

The authorized agenda will also include a handful of unrelated issues -- including a plan to allow the city of St. Louis to take over control of its police department, which has been under state supervision since the Civil War. Another issue is moving the state's presidential primary back to March, in order to avoid political penalties threatened by both major parties if the state proceeds with its current plan to hold the primary in February.

St. Louis area political and civic leaders, of both parties, are particularly thrilled that the session's proposals will include earmarking $360 million in state tax credits aimed at bolstering the effort to persuade China to locate a cargo hub at Lambert St. Louis International Airport. The bulk of the credits are to encourage warehouse development around the airport.

Monday night, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay lauded the governor's decision to include local control and the China hub effort in the special session.

"The Governor gave this a lot of thought. Then, he made the right decisions," Slay wrote on his blog, referring to Nixon's unexpectedly long delay between the time, weeks ago, when Nixon declared there would be a special session and Monday's announcement of the particulars.

Nixon's proclamation doesn't say how long the special session will last, but the legislature's annual veto session is set to begin Sept. 14. By law, a special session can last up to 60 days, but traditionally such sessions have run only a few weeks.

Nixon's identified priorities for the special session include:

-- "Enacting the Missouri Science and Innovation Reinvestment Act (MOSIRA) to encourage the growth of science and innovation businesses in the state;"

-- "Enacting the Compete Missouri Initiative to provide additional incentives and benefits to attract and retain businesses, to streamline and update Missouri's training programs, and to increase the efficiencies of the state's business development incentives;"

-- "Enacting legislation to increase exports and foreign trade through the development of an international air cargo hub at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport - a project with the potential to create thousands of construction jobs, and thousands of additional jobs once the hub is operational;"

-- "Enacting legislation to help construct and develop high-tech data centers."

-- "Authorizing tax credits to help attract amateur sporting events to Missouri."

To pay for such proposals, Nixon is seeking changes in the state's tax credit programs, which would involve cuts in some programs and the elimination of others.

The chief targets are the state tax credits for historic preservation. Republican legislative leaders spent much of the summer hashing out a deal, after a dispute over tax credit changes scuttled an economic-development bill -- and local control for the St. Louis police department -- during the last legislative session that ended May 13.

Nixon's call also includes "provisions to increase the efficiency of the Missouri Department of Revenue's collections operations, and to authorize a brief "tax amnesty" program in 2012.

But Nixon's call excludes any action regarding provisions dealing with the land assemblage tax credit that would affect prominent St. Louis developer Paul McKee, who has purchased large tracts of land for redevelopment in north St. Louis. Republican legislative leaders have supported proposed changes that would allow McKee to collect millions of dollars in credits over a longer period.

Missouri Right to Life also has pledged to oppose the proposed Missouri Science and Innovation Reinvestment Act unless language is inserted 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.

The Regional Chamber and Growth Association praised Nixon for including the China hub effort, taking note of the deal meltdown during the final days of the regular legislation session.

"...We have been working throughout the summer to encourage a successful resolution of the issues related to the economic development package and advocate for a timely special session this fall," the association said. "The RCGA applauds the Governor for calling a special session, and supports the swift passage of these key job creation initiatives."

Nixon, who by law sets the parameters for the special session, said in his pronouncement that a full assessment must be reached before he and the legislature can agree on how to pay for the state's share of the recovery costs for Joplin, Mo., which was hit by a devastating and deadly tornado May 22.

The upshot: The special session will not deal with how to finance the recovery costs.

"As we finalize our damage assessments along the Missouri River and in other communities, we will determine the most effective and comprehensive method to finance disaster recovery in every corner of Missouri," the governor wrote. "I look forward to working with the General Assembly to make those critical financing decisions once we have completed the assessment process."

Nixon, a Democrat, is in a dispute with state Auditor Tom Schweich, a Republican, over the governor's earlier decision to withhold $170 million from the state's budget appropriations to pay the state's share of Joplin recovery. Schweich contends that approach is unconstitutional.

Although Nixon announced weeks ago that he planned to call a special session, the governor said in a statement that he had held off in issuing the official proclamation while his staff worked on the details with legislators to "finalize the language for the special session call to ensure that the session will be as efficient and effective as possible."

Click here to read the governor's entire proclamation laying out the special-session agenda.

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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