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Missouri House votes to rein in tax credits, block stadium aid, curb teen marriages

Lawmakers in the Missouri House work to pass legislation before the close of session Friday evening. May 16, 2018.
Casey Nolan | KSDK, published with permission
Lawmakers in the Missouri House work to pass legislation before the close of session Friday evening.

The Missouri House has approved a massive tax bill that, among other things, trims the state’s historic tax credit program, and bars any general-revenue spending for sports stadiums.

The bill approved Wednesday also would punish developers who provide false information to obtain state tax credits by barring them from the state aid for 10 years.

And it would require homeowners who rent out rooms under such programs as Airbnb to pay the local tourism taxes already assessed on hotels.

But with the legislative session ending Friday, it’s unclear if the Senate will have the time or desire to deal with the altered measure, officially known as SB773.

The bill’s House handler, Rep. Kathryn Swan, R-Cape Girardeau, acknowledged as much. “This is a heavy lift,’’ she said, right before the House’s final vote of 115-32.

The House added more than a dozen amendments since Tuesday night, with members seeing SB773 as perhaps their best hope for getting last-minute tax measures on Gov. Eric Greitens’ desk.

Historic tax credits trimmed

The historic tax credit proposal will likely attract the most attention from urban developers and homeowners.  Under the House-approved plan, the program’s new credits would be limited to $90 million a year. That’s a 40 percent cut from the current limit of $140 million a year.

The provision’s sponsor, Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, told lawmakers the cut was not as severe as it seems, because the program’s annual awards were often below the current limit.

Some state officials in both parties have sought for years to rein in historic-tax credit spending, even as they have lauded its benefits. The problem has been the cost to state coffers, which also are strained by recent tax cuts.

The controversy in St. Louis over developer Paul McKee’s use of millions of dollars in state tax credits, and questions about his properties, may have influenced the House’s proposed punishment for developers determined to have abused the program.

Stadiums and guns

That same concern appeared to fuel the House’s swift action, with little debate, to approve a ban on using state general-revenue money for any type of sports stadium. The bill lists virtually any sport where team owner or enthusiasts might seek a stadium.

The bill also would bar regional or local governments from using their tax money for stadiums, unless there’s a public vote.

The tax bill also seeks to incentivize gun owners – who now don’t need a concealed-carry permit – to get professional guidance. It would authorize a $150-a-year tax break for people who take eight hours of firearms training.

More restrictions on teen marriage

In other key actions Wednesday, the House revisited the question of how young is too young for marriage.

After some debate, the chamber approved a provision that would prevent teens under the age of 16 from getting married in Missouri. And those under 18 would need parental permission.

The requirements are part of a move to curb sex trafficking in the state.  Sponsor Jean Evans, a Republican from Manchester, says the state’s lax marriage laws are prompting older men to bring teenage girls to the state so they can marry them.

The House had tackled the issue earlier this session.  Wednesday’s version was considered more likely to win approval in both chambers.

“After much discussion with some of my colleagues, we came up with some language they were more comfortable with,” Evans said. “We removed the provision of going before a judge.”

The House measure also would bar marriages for teens under 18 if their partner is over 21.  That provision, in particular, raised some objections from members who recalled when their parents married young – with wider age differences – during World War II.

The state Senate’s approval is still needed.

Ameren wins passage of long-sought bill

The House’s last action on Wednesday  night will head toward the governor’s desk.

The chamber approved a bill – long sought by the electrical utility Ameren – that will allow the company more flexibility in setting rates under certain circumstances.

Ameren and its allies, including the Missouri Chamber, say the bill will lead to lower utility rates and modernization of its electrical grid. Some consumer groups aren't so sure.

Ameren says the bill, which passed the Senate weeks ago, will allow it to take better advantage of the federal tax cuts approved last December.  With passage of the bill, Ameren is promising to reduce rates within 90 days.

The bill sets rate-hike caps for the utility, and also requires it to file a capital-investment plan annually with Missouri’s Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities in the state. The bill also requires Ameren to offer rebates for solar electrical systems, but allows the utility to recoup some of its costs through rate hikes.

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

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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