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Business, labor leaders lobby for entire jobs package before special session

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 30, 2011 - Chamber of Commerce and labor leaders from around Missouri joined in an unusual conference call today to underscore their common quest to win legislative approval of a broad-based economic development package that also revamps the state's tax credit programs.

Dan Mehan, chief executive of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, emceed the 75-minute call -- part of the business/labor/government cheerleading effort leading up to next week's launch of a special legislative session.

Gov. Jay Nixon, for example, will be back in St. Louis on Wednesday for the second time this week to highlight aspects of what is billed the "Made in Missouri Jobs Package."

The aim, in part, is to counter the criticisms and opposition from various conservative quarters -- from tea party groups opposed to corporate tax breaks to social conservatives who oppose some forms of science research that the package would encourage.

Hugh McVey, head of the Missouri AFL-CIO, said the proposals -- if approved as a bloc by the General Assembly -- offer the promise of "thousands and thousands of good-paying jobs'' for unemployed and under-employed Missourians.

A key piece is a proposal to earmark $360 million in state tax credits to encourage development related to the effort to persuade China to locate a cargo hub at Lambert St. Louis International Airport. Backers say the hub could be transformative for the region.

Other aspects include:

-- Creating the long-sought Missouri Science and Innovation Reinvestment Act, to encourage the growth of science-related businesses, including those involving the life sciences;

-- Approving special tax breaks to encourage the deveopment and construction of high-tech data centers;

-- Enacting the proposed "Compete Missouri Initiative,'' that includes tax breaks and incentives to attract and retain businesses and improve the state's job-training programs.

-- Authorizing tax breaks to attract amateur sporting events to Missouri.

The key message in the conference call was that the whole package needed to win legislative approval, in part because various portions affect different parts of the state.

"A common thread is that we need to have a laser focus on creating jobs, '' said Richard C.D. Fleming, chief executive of the Regional Chamber and Growth Association in St. Louis.

Fleming was the only speaker willing to address head-on the complaints from some critics that the new tax breaks are being assembled by curbing or eliminating some existing programs aimed at helping the poor, the elderly and rundown urban areas.

The proposed package would reduce the tax breaks available for low-income housing and historic preservation, while eliminating the portion of the state's "circuit breaker'' program to offers a tax credit for low-income elderly and disabled who rent.

Said Fleming: "I think everyone recognizes that if we don't find a way to change the trajectory of our economy, we're going to be facing continuing choices that are negative choices."

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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