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Missouri House speaker may drop effort to override Nixon's veto of tax-cut bill

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 30, 2013 - Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones said Tuesday that he might not attempt to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s marquee veto of the tax-cut bill known as HB 253 because, as it stands now, Jones doesn’t have the votes.

“Overriding this veto will be monumental if it happens because right now, I have to say, I don’t know that we have the numbers,” said Jones, R-Eureka, during Tuesday’s recording of the Politically Speaking podcast, a weekly joint venture of the St. Louis Beacon and St. Louis Public Radio.

“It’s likely I would not even attempt an override,’’ Jones continued, as he discussed the challenges he and other supporters of HB253 face in trying to line up the votes.

(Update) On Wednesday, Jones reaffirmed his stance even as he shifted his emphasis to exhorting supporters to help him line up the needed 109 votes.

Jones said that some supporters, and critics, appeared to misinterpret his podcast statements . "Some thought I was giving up on the bill,'' Jones said, emphasizing that wasn't the case.

His message, he continued, was that supporters must help him out by lobbying roughly a dozen legislators, Republicans and Democrats, who "are in play" and persuade them to back the override.

"If (backers) want to get this done, it can't just be leadership of the Republican Party in the House" lining up the votes, he said. (End of update)

Jones' observations also come amid a multi-million-dollar ad campaign by several pro-business groups advocating a veto override.

The measure calls for cutting business taxes in half over five years and making a smaller reduction in the state’s individual income tax. Backers contend it would ignite economic growth and make Missouri more competitive with Kansas, which has slashed its state income taxes.

Nixon and his allies counter that the bill also would impose tax hikes because it does away with the state’s longstanding sales tax exemptions on prescription drugs and school textbooks.

On Wednesday, Jones appeared on several conservative talk shows to whip up support for a successful override.

"I've got a lot of members under a lot of stress,'' Jones told radio talk-show host Dana Loesch on her show, "The Dana Show,'' on 97.1 FM. "I need a lot of help from the grassroots."

Numbers highlight override challenge

HB253 passed the House in May with 103 votes – 100 Republicans and three Democrats. Backers need 109 House votes to override Nixon’s veto. There are exactly 109 Republicans in the House, but three voted against the bill in May and a half-dozen others didn’t vote.

Jones acknowledged that he will need the support of all 109 Republicans.

He then observed bluntly: “Unless those individuals and others who have concerns can look me in the eye and say ‘Mr. Speaker, I’m going to vote for the override,’ then there is no reason for me to bring it up. Because I don’t think there will be a single Democratic vote for the override when it comes down to it.”

(Update) Even so, Jones is singling out the three Democrats who had voted for the bill, which include Reps. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, and Ed Schieffer, D-Troy, who are both running for Missouri Senate seats.

On Loesch's show, Jones asked listeners to lobby Roorda, Schieffer and all the Republicans, so that they will vote for the override.

Jones told the Beacon that he called Roorda Wednesday, and that Roorda "remains in play'' regarding any override. (End update)

On the podcast, Jones called the prospect that HB253 is dead “a shame,” adding that he believed strongly that the legislation was “something that will move Missouri forward out of its 48th place in the nation of GDP growth.”

If no override is achieved, Jones said he hopes to craft a new tax-cut bill next session -- and that he hopes the governor will get involved. Nixon has hinted at several public events that he might be amenable.

The speaker went on to criticize Nixon for going on a well-publicized statewide tour to speak out against the bill, a swing that included a stop in Clayton yesterday.

Said Jones: “He is spending an inordinate amount of political capital and an inordinate amount of taxpayer funds … flying around the state, driving around the state complaining about a bill that he’s now vetoed that is very likely not going to be overridden.”

Nixon replied with a statement issued Tuesday afternoon:

"Today’s comments by the speaker that the House is unlikely to override my veto of House Bill 253 indicate that legislators are hearing from their constituents and recognizing that there is no need to raise taxes on prescription drugs, defund our schools or jeopardize our AAA credit rating with this fiscally irresponsible experiment.

"It’s become clear that many members did not have the opportunity to read or fully understand this bill’s many flawed provisions and unintended consequences – including its $200 million tax increase on prescription drugs and college textbooks. With Missouri adding nearly 13,000 jobs last month and our GDP continuing to grow, now is the time to build on this solid momentum. That is why I will continue to communicate as necessary with lawmakers and stakeholders about the need to ensure my veto is sustained so that this flawed bill does not become law."

Override vote likely on gun bill

Jones said he is more optimistic about overriding several other vetoed bills, notably the “Second Amendment Preservation Act,’’ or HB436, that Jones co-sponsored.

The bill would bar enforcement in Missouri of any federal gun laws, including the 1934 ban on machine guns. The bill also would make it illegal to publish the names of any gun owners, would allow school districts to designate "school protection officers" who can carry firearms, and would lower the legal age for carrying a concealed weapon to 19. The current minimum age is 21.

Among other things, HB436 declares that "all past, present, or future federal acts, laws, orders, rules, or regulations that infringe on the people's right to keep and bear arms" are "invalid, will not be recognized, are specifically rejected, and will be considered null and void and of no effect in this state."

Nixon, in his veto message, called the bill “unnecessary and unconstitutional.” The Missouri Press Association is among the measure’s opponents.

However, a number of  legislators have publicly stated -- most recently to the Associated Press -- they plan to vote to override the bill, including some who said they expected the courts to toss out HB436.

Jones, a lawyer, disagreed. He said the bill was aimed at restoring states’ powers and contended that the federal gun laws were just one example of Washington's overreach.

"The main focus of this bill is a frustration on behalf on Missourians – reflected by their representatives on both the Republican and Democratic side of the aisle – that … this is a result of the federal government sticking its nose into the Second Amendment issue where it does not belong," Jones said.

"This is Missourians through their representatives saying ‘we are going to once again stand up for the Second Amendment and protect our right to defend ourselves, our family, our property and our way of life.’"

Override attempt expected on 'Doe Run' bill

Another vetoed bill that Jones believes stands a good chance is HB650, which would limit punitive damages to $2.5 million for injuries at mines operated and maintained by the Jefferson County-based Doe Run Co.

In his veto message, Nixon said it was inappropriate to craft a law that benefited only one company.

Still, Jones said that several Democrats from Jefferson County – including Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, and Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Jefferson County – may help tip the scales in favor of an override.

He said the bill would “allow a great Missouri-based business to reinvent itself, take care of its past liabilities in a very fair way to any affected – but then move on.”

“And the most important thing? They are telling us that this would result in 2,000 new jobs for southeast Missouri – an area of the state that could really use an infusion of that capital and of that job growth,”Jones said.

Jones contended that Nixon, a fellow lawyer, had vetoed the bill at the behest of trial lawyers, who as a bloc often back Democrats.

GOP caucus will be held in St. Louis

The Missouri General Assembly will begin its veto session on Sept. 11. But the actual decisions of which vetoed bills legislators will seek to resurrect, via an override, will be made in about two weeks. That’s when House Republicans gather in St. Louis in mid-August at the Westin hotel.

Jones said that the caucus will discuss all 29 bills passed by the General Assembly last session and vetoed in recent weeks by Nixon. But the chief focus will be on the 10 bills that originated in the House, including the tax-cut bill.

The speaker said that the sponsors of each bill will present their reasons as to why Nixon’s veto should be overridden. A count will then be made to determine if there are enough votes.

In a few cases, some Democrats may join Republicans in casting an override vote. But Jones doesn’t expect that to happen when it comes to HB253 -- which is why he's pessimistic about its chances.

Reaffirms interest in attorney general race

Near the end of the podcast, Jones once again expressed his interest in running for Missouri attorney general in 2016. The post will be up for grabs since  Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, is planning to run for governor.

Jones noted that he had a “prosecuting attorney background” working for a prosecuting attorney in New York. As a result, he said, “the attorney general’s office is something that really appeals to me.”

“I think that the attorney general’s office would be a real working office that I would enjoy waking up and working in every day,” said Jones. He cited the office's responsibility in handling consumer, criminal and financial issues.

Referring to his own political intentions, Jones added, “Official announcements will probably have to wait for a later day, but it’s one that I’m heavily focused on right now and intend to definitely pursue.”

Several other prominent Republicans – including state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, state Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, and former House Speaker Catherine Hanaway of St. Louis County – are potential competitors.

When asked whether he would reconsider if there is a prospect of a crowded and contentious primary, Jones said, “Republicans learned a good lesson in the primary battles of 2012. “ 

“There’s a lot of people who may want to run for a particular office, ultimately though in the end I do not think you’ll see multiple 'Tier One' candidates running for the same office,” said Jones -- adding that Schaefer, Schmitt and Hanaway fit that "Tier One" description.

“Those who are willing to work the hardest, travel the state the most, have the most contact with the media, with the grassroots, with donors large and small, with community leaders here and there – those candidates will rise to the top," he continued. "They’ll be the clear front-runners.”

Jones concluded, “And it’s my intention to prove to the people of Missouri that I’m worthy of that choice."

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.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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