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Crowell vows to block special session's economic development package

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 26, 2011 - Missouri state Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, has announced he'll do what he can to obstruct the economic development deal that is to be the centerpiece of the special legislative session to begin Sept. 6.

In an email sent today to constituents and others, Crowell calls it the 'Special Interests First, Taxpayers Last' package -- citing as his top example the proposed $360 million in state tax credits to encourage the China cargo hub sought for Lambert St. Louis International Airport. Supporters have dubbed the project "Aerotropolis."

"Senate and House Leadership spent the month of July in a backroom in St. Louis cutting a deal that is short on economic development, short on tax credit reform, but long on government handouts to special interests, creating a larger budget deficit that prevents us from funding priorities like education," Crowell wrote. "And Governor Nixon has yielded to this deal, endorsed it, and is doing his part..."

Crowell, a lawyer and potential candidate for statewide or congressional office in 2012 or 2014, long has been an outspoken critic of the China hub and some of the other provisions of the economic-development proposal. He was arguably the chief reason why the bill died during the regular legislative session that ended May 13.

Crowell has sent out regular missives all summer critical of the proposed economic-development package. But his latest declaration contains his harshest language yet, and likely signals that he's prepared to use the Senate's procedures during the special session to slow down or block the package.

Advocates, including Nixon, hope that the special session takes no more than a few weeks. Although both chambers officially go into session Sept. 6, the procedures call for the Senate to take the lead. Senate committee hearings are slated for Sept. 7 and to begin floor action by the Sept. 8.

House members have been told they don't need to be in the Capitol until Sept. 8.

The schedule signals that Republican legislative leaders are well aware that Crowell could pose their toughest challenge.

Crowell has yet to return calls from the Beacon to offer additional detail regarding his plans, preferring that his written statements speak for themselves.

Crowell singles out his objections to provisions that he says will:

  •  "Give $360 million to developers for Aerotropolis with no taxpayer protections to get their money back if Aerotropolis does not create the jobs promised;
  •  "Exempt the construction of Data Centers from paying state and local sales taxes on utilities, machinery, and equipment;
  •  "Provide $10 million dollars a year to attract a billion dollar sports industry to host events in Missouri;
  •  "Reward those who avoided paying their taxes by giving amnesty to their wrongdoing;

Although a critic of the state's tax credit programs, Crowell also faults one of the chief avenues for raising the money for the projects: the plan to eliminate the Circuit Breaker Property Tax Relief for low-income and disabled renters. The state now pays out about $55.8 million a year for the tax break.
A fiscal conservative, Crowell said he doesn't support the tax break. But he also opposes shifting that money to developers. Under the economic development package, Crowell says cutting the low-income tax break for renters allows legislators to amass "$847.5 million over 15 years to pay for these new giveaways."

His point, he said, is that "it is even more ridiculous to give this money to developers in new tax credits" when the state government's budget for the current fiscal year fails to fully fund the state's public school-aid program -- known as the "foundation formula" by $177 million.

Crowell indicates that he has less objections to the package's cuts in two other tax-credit programs for developers who build low-income housing or renovate historic buildings. In fact, Crowell generally has advocated deeper cuts in those programs than are proposed in the economic-development bill.

"This deal that Senate and House Leadership cut behind closed doors, in a non-transparent inside job, and is now being pushed to be passed in special session, must not be allowed to pass," Crowell wrote. "Let me be clear, there is a path to do right by the Missouri taxpayer and I will fight to amend Leaderships' bill to this end..."

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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