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Missouri Chamber's 2013 priorities include passage of a 'right to work' law curbing union rights

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 3, 2013 - The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry has announced its “aggressive list of legislative priorities’’ for the coming legislative session -- which include measures to cut business income taxes and to curb union rights.

The chamber says it also plans to continue its efforts to change the state’s workers compensation system so that it once again deals with occupational diseases, which now are handled separately in the courts.

And the chamber will lobby legislators to try once again to repair the state’s underfunded Second Injury Fund, set up to cover workers and military veterans who have pre-existing injuries.

The chamber's expansive wish-list was unveiled Wednesday, with its leaders saying the aim is "to hold legislators accountable this session for their campaign promises to support Missouri jobs..."

The state of Missouri already is phasing out the longstanding business "franchise tax" that as of 2010 brought in almost $90 million a year in state tax income.

The chamber now supports Republican proposals that call for cutting or eliminating all Missouri income taxes on businesses. Missouri now collects just over $340 million a year in business income taxes.

Backers say getting rid of the taxes would attract more businesses and jobs to the state; opponents say the cuts will exacerbate state government's existing financial problems.

Call for emulating Indiana, Missouri on labor curbs

Regarding labor, the state chamber contends that Missouri needs to join the ranks of Indiana and Michigan, which recently passed “right to work’’ laws that bar unions and employers from requiring all workers to pay union dues if a majority vote to organize.

The chamber contends that Indiana has become more attractive to business since its Republican-controlled legislature (and then-Gov. Mitch Daniels) took such action in 2011; Michigan followed suit a few weeks ago.

“This issue is framed as ‘business v. labor,’ but that is not the case,” said Chamber chief executive Dan Mehan said. “Frankly, it is an issue between labor and employees. Bottom line, employees should be given the opportunity to choose whether or not they want to be part of a union. Right to Work gives them that right.”

Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, has declared he will veto any “right to work’’ legislation approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly. The state chamber is hoping that the large veto-proof GOP majorities in both chambers will be enough to override the governor.

The chamber said it also is promoting three other measures targeting unions:

  • The so-called “Paycheck Protection” proposal, which would bar payroll deduction of union dues.
  •  A proposal to eliminate project labor agreements, also known as PLAs, in which contractors agree to use only union workers on public projects. “Project labor agreements stifle free trade and increases costs unnecessarily,” Mehan said.
  • Proposed elimination of the state’s “prevailing wage laws” that require that the standard wage for a particular job be applied to public projects. The chamber says the mandate increases costs for taxpayers.

Renewed focus on trade 'hub' at Lambert

The Missouri chamber is backing one proposal that is supported by labor and many businesses in the St. Louis area – long-sought tax breaks to encourage “an international air cargo hub” at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

“This investment has the potential to significantly transform the region,” Mehan said. “It would provide a big savings for employers in the region that currently ship internationally through other cities such as Chicago or Dallas. At the same time, it would create hundreds of additional jobs as it brings new exporting companies and support facilities into our state. This is a game changer for the state and Midwest exporters.”

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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