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Business tax breaks stall during first week of special session

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The plans of the governor and legislative leadership for swift action on tax breaks for a China air cargo hub ran into a roadblock in the Missouri Senate on the first week of the session.

Faced with growing opposition within his own party over efforts for a quick vote, Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, announced Sept. 8 that a Senate vote on the matter would be delayed until Sept. 13 at the earliest.

Mayer's decision came after a two-hour, closed-door caucus of Senate Republicans before the Sept. 8 session that was scheduled to take up the China cargo hub legislation.

"A bill of this magnitude and of this importance needs the attention of each member of this body," Mayer said.

One member, the Senate's only practicing physician, described the delay to extending the life of a patient at the request of relatives even though he knows the patient has a terminal tumor.

"The tumor here is 'aerotropolis,' and I believe the chemotherapy that we're doing is costing us about $25,000 a day to do this, to keep this alive a few more days," said Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.

But other members, including one of the Senate's harshest critics of the China hub proposal, said the idea was not necessarily dead yet.

The proposal would provide about $260 million in tax breaks for the development of warehouses and other support facilities for a transport hub based in the St. Louis area.

The plan is combined with a package of reductions in various tax credits, including complete elimination of some programs. Proponents argue those tax credit cuts would finance the China hub plan. What tax credits to cut and how deeply to cut them is one of the major controversies that stalled Senate action.

The governor and legislative leaders agreed earlier this year to a plan that would make significantly smaller tax credit cuts than had been approved by the Senate during the regular session. Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, attacked his own party leaders for signing onto the agreement without consulting members.

"Don't tell me that I can't kill bills and I can't filibuster bills, because the leadership does it all the time," Crowell said on the opening day of the session, when his three-hour filibuster delayed the Senate from even getting organized.

As the first week of the session evolved, there were signs of growing opposition to elimination of tax credits for lower income elderly and disabled renters. It was to be one of the largest tax credit cuts. Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, described it as "robbing the poor to give to the rich."

One of the early signs of problems for the China hub deal emerged when Purgason declined to carry forward as the sponsor of the leadership's package with the governor and, instead, sponsored his own bill.

"When we're spending taxpayer dollars, we need to move slowly because we're spending some else's money and our kids' money, and we're spending money that goes to education," Purgason said.

The rental tax credit program was established to provide a tax break similar to the "circuit breaker" provided to lower income elderly homeowners.

Critics, however, have argued that renters living in facilities with little or no property taxes benefit from the tax credits.[[In-content Ad]]


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