This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 14, 2011 - In the midst of the special session's heated debate over an economic development package, both chambers of the Missouri General Assembly have decided to adjourn until next Wednesday in an effort to cool down the rhetoric and engage in behind-the-scenes talks.
The discussion -- or perhaps, the disagreement -- has apparently caught the attention of the Chinese government.
China's Chicago-based general consul showed up this afternoon for private meetings with Gov. Jay Nixon, House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, and Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter. Aides familiar with the sessions said they had been scheduled earlier, were simply social calls of the get-to-know-you variety, and did not delve into the details of the economic development package.
The package, of course, includes state tax credits aimed at encouraging China to locate a cargo hub at Lambert St. Louis International Airport.
Today, though, the state Senate approved a bill that drastically cut those incentives. The Senate bill now provides $60 million to encourage freight-forwarders to direct cargo traffic to Lambert, but it excludes the $300 million to encourage construction and development of warehouses and other infrastructure near Lambert.
Mayer was the chief architect of the revised Senate bill. He said in an interview after the Senate adjourned that he was pleased to get the measure's approval by a 26-8 vote.
The Senate bill also kept state's tax credit for poor elderly and disabled renters. That tax credit, known as the "circuit-breaker,'' costs the state $52 million a year -- and was originally a considerable chunk of the $1.5 billion in savings over 15 years that the initial bill projected.
Mayer's bill initially eliminated the circuit-breaker, but it was revised on the Senate floor.
'The House is the House'
Mayer was philosophical about how the House will approach the issue, since the Senate bill differs substantially from the version announced in July during a statewide fly-around of political, civic and business leaders.
"I understand that the House is the House," Mayer said. "They have to pass the bill their membership designs."
He added that he had yet to talk to Tilley about the Senate's provisions and likely differences.
Tilley told reporters earlier today that he could not support Mayer's bill, as passed. Among other things, Tilley disagreed with the Senate's version of the "Compete Missouri" plan that combines economic development incentives and gives authority to the state Department of Economic Development to distribute the benefits.
"Clearly it wasn't the deal that myself and Rob Mayer agreed to," Tilley said, referring to pre-session talks. "But we're going to keep working with the Senate to get something accomplished. But no, Senate Bill 8 (the economic development bill) is not just something we can take up and pass."
The Senate also had opted to separate the proposed Missouri Science and Innovation Reinvestment Act, known as MOSIRA, which offers incentives for jobs related to science and research. Mayer said that was done for legal reasons.
The Senate voted 32-2 this afternoon to approve MOSIRA, or Senate Bill 7. But there is a provision stipulating it goes into effect only if the broader economic development bill (SB 8) passes. The Senate did not add language to MOSIRA that had been sought by Missouri Right to Life, the state's largest anti-abortion group. It fears that the current wording is not strict enough to ban types of embryonic stem cell research.
Said Missouri Right to Life, in part, in a statement late Wednesday: "While an amendment containing protective language was introduced Tuesday evening, in a carefully choreographed maneuver, senators replaced this amendment with another amendment that required only an additional, ineffective reporting requirement."
Agreement or gamesmanship?
Mayer said he did not want to react to Tilley's comments until he had talked to him and sees what action is taken next week by the House.
Tilley was particularly critical of Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, who was part of a Senate delegation negotiating over the summer about the economic development plan. Tilley said that Lager agreed to support the deal that was touted over the summer and then has worked before and during the special session against it.
"We sat around a table and said 'Here's the deal, we'll work toward the deal. And there's no changes until both sides agree,' " Tilley said. "And then he goes out and works against the deal. And you take of it what you think."
In an interview, Lager provided a different interpretation of the summer's talks.
"This was gamesmanship to try to get in front of the governor," Lager said. "When we left that table, we agreed we would take that deal back to our caucuses, and say 'Listen, here's what we've come up with. Can you live with this? And can you get this passed?' "
"The agreement when we got up from that table was we were going to get it on paper so we could all understand it, we could score it, we would have a full understanding of all the concepts and everything that had been agreed to," Lager continued.
Several hours after that summer meeting, Lager (right) said that he expressed reservations about the plan to Mayer. He said once the GOP Senate Caucus heard about the plan, it was "adamantly opposed."
Lager contended that the July fly-around had been premature and a "horrible idea."
Tilley said, "On my end, it was not."
"Before I made the deal, we had a leadership meeting where we vetted the proposal and we came to the agreement that we could pass this," Tilley said. The speaker added that it also was agreed that the House would deal with other special-session issues first, while the Senate dealt first with the economic-development package.
"The House has done every single thing that we were going to do," Tilley said.
"On the Senate end, I assumed that when Rob Mayer told me that this could get done...I assumed that he could get it done," Tilley continued. "It's clear that he couldn't. I'm not necessarily blaming him because I think he's trying to get it done. But obviously he wasn't successful."
Mayer said that he also believed that a deal had been struck last summer, noting that the initial economic development package was not that much different from what had been approved 32-2 during the regular session last spring.
"I thought at the time that we had a concept and an agreement,'' Mayer said.
What happened since July, said Mayer, was that "we had some pretty powerful entities who were working against it, almost from the start."
He singled out the Show Me Institute, a free-market think tank based in St. Louis that is particularly opposed to the China hub, as well as developers of low-income housing and advocates for the historic-preservation tax credits.
Mayer added that he remained confident that some sort of economic development bill will pass before the special session ends.
Made in Missouri
Meanwhile, the governor, a Democrat, has gone back on the road to sell the economic development bill, officially known as the "Made in Missouri Package."
Nixon plans to be in Concordia and Lee's Summit, where his staff said "the governor will discuss how the 'Made in Missouri Jobs Package' will foster scientific and technology innovation, sharpen the state's economic tools, and expand Missouri exports, while ensuring continued fiscal discipline and accountability with taxpayer resources."
The governor's statement also praises the Senate's action and calls for the Missouri House "to send a strong jobs package to his desk in the coming days."
Nixon doesn't get into the particulars.