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Business Bill Roundup: Legislators end session

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The Missouri General Assembly on May 18 ended its regular session with a series of bills that affect businesses.

Below is a summary of prominent bills and legislative actions.

Tax reform
The Missouri House approved a bill sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tem Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, to enact tax reform changes.

Notably, Haahr said, House Bill 2540 reduces the individual income tax rate to 5.5 percent from 5.9 percent. Pending additional revenue growth in the state, the tax rate would drop to 5.1 percent, according to a news release. The bill also drops the corporate tax rate to 5 percent from 6.25 percent.

“These are common-sense, fiscally responsible, bold solutions that will lower the overall tax burden on Missouri families and businesses,” Haahr said in the release. “Witnessing the economic surge following passage of the federal 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the evidence is clear that reducing taxes benefits American families.”

Approved by a 101-40 vote on May 17, the bill now heads to Gov. Eric Greitens’ desk for approval. The bill closely mirrors tax changes promoted earlier this year by Greitens.

The bill also eliminates some tax brackets and collects internet sales taxes through a multistate partnership.

Missouri Budget Project Executive Director Amy Blouin said the bill favors residents with higher incomes and out-of-state corporations. She specifically referenced the legislature’s decision not to include an earned income tax credit in the bill.

“By failing to enact an EITC, lawmakers passed up a golden opportunity to spur local economies and give a boost to up to 515,000 working families in Missouri who are struggling to make ends meet,” she said in the release. “We look forward to working with the legislature next year to prioritize the EITC for hardworking Missourians.”

Tax credits
The Missouri House Budget Committee, led by Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, on Friday approved a motion to discontinue the state’s low-income housing tax credit in fiscal 2019.

The decision, which affects the period between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019, follows the Missouri Housing Development Commission’s vote late last year to end the housing credit program.

The credits have been used by the likes of Housing Plus LLC and The Kitchen Inc., on the $5.3 million McClernon Villas, and O’Reilly Development Co. LLC for Tower Village in Lebanon. The latter project utilized $3.8 million in credits over a 10-year period, according to past SBJ reporting.

The Missouri Workforce Housing Association — of which Housing Plus and O’Reilly Development are members — issued a statement in response to the state decision.

“We deplore the politicization of this worthy program; we work with people on both sides of the aisle who strive to make this program successful,” said Stephen Acree, board president of the Missouri Workforce Housing Association, in the statement. “We urge that the legislature explore ways to reduce the impact of politics on this program and pledge to support efforts that do so.”

The House committee also limited the state’s historic tax credits to $120 million from $140 million for the next fiscal year.

“We spend more on these tax credits than almost any other state in the nation, and the return on our investment is unacceptable to Missouri taxpayers,” Fitzpatrick said in the release. “Hopefully this decision, combined with the actions of MHDC, will prompt a much-needed discussion on substantive tax credit reform.”

Prevailing wage
Through HB 1729 — sponsored by Rep. Jeffery Justus, R-Branson — legislators on May 18 passed changes to the state’s prevailing wage law.

Under the bill, prevailing wages would only be paid when the cost of taxpayer-funded projects reaches a $75,000 threshold. Each occupational title in a county also must have 1,000 reportable hours per year for prevailing wages to be applied, according to a release from the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The Heavy Construction Laborers Local 663 called the legislation a “compromise bill that spared the prevailing wage on public projects from total repeal.”

“We strongly oppose any effort to cut the pay of our hard-working members. Many in the majority wanted to destroy family wage jobs in the state by repealing the prevailing wage,” said Tim Bell, Western Missouri and Kansas Laborers District Council business manager, in a release. “We are grateful to the minority leadership in the House and Senate for standing up to these assaults on working people.”

Separately, the Senate approved a bill called the Government Worker Protection Act, which allows workers to decide whether to pay union dues and financially support political activity, among other measures.

Criminal acts at businesses
The legislature on May 17 approved a bill that reforms how legal cases are handled in the event of criminal acts committed by third parties on business premises.

Specifically, the Business Premises Safety Act holds companies responsible only if they had reason to know a crime would be committed and could have prevented it, according to a Missouri chamber release.

“Without this legislation, businesses will continue to be treated too harshly in our courts and unfairly held responsible for crimes out of their control,” said Dan Mehan, Missouri chamber president and CEO, in the release.

Electric rates
SB 564 was approved to quicken the refund of more than $133 million in federal tax savings via Missouri utility companies.

The bill also moves to cap energy rates increases at 2.85 percent or 3 percent per year, depending on the service area, according to a chamber release.

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