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Legislators reflect on recent accomplishments

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

Missouri legislators were working to finish the session the week of May 11. Though a tax-cut bill had passed, many other bills, including an omnibus economic development bill, were outstanding as the Business Journal went to press.

Springfield area representatives and Springfield Sen. Roseann Bentley were pleased at some of the session's outcomes, and disappointed at others.

Though the tax-relief bill, now passed and awaiting the governor's signature, offered $90 million in relief to the elderly and families with dependent children, Rep. Norma Champion didn't think it was enough.

"This is a good agreement, but I think we could have done a little more. This, plus two or three other, smaller tax cuts will be what we need," Champion said.

The tax-relief bill has three provisions. It provides a $22 million expansion of the property-tax relief program in place for people 65 and older and the disabled. It also provides a $1,000 deduction for people who care for those over 65 who are dependents. The bill also provides the first increase, other than cost indexing, in the dependency exemption in more than 50 years, raising it to $1,200, Champion said.

Bentley also said she did not think the bill offered "nearly enough tax relief."

"I am dismayed that it wasn't more comprehensive. I wish the Homestead Act, which would have given all property owners some relief, would have remained a part of the tax relief package," Bentley said.

Another bill that made it through this session was one to regulate credit unions chartered in Missouri. House Bill 1323 creates a Credit Union Commission in the state's Division of Credit Unions. The commission will advise the director of the Division of Credit Unions.

The second major tenet of the bill has to do with credit union membership. Under this bill, the credit union will have to decide whether it will expand its membership by adding geographic areas to its service area or selected employee groups.

Though that issue was contentious for a while, Champion said she was pleased that a compromise was finally reached.

"I finally voted for it, but it was a very difficult situation. I feel as though we got something the banks could live with and the credit unions agreed to, as well," Champion said.

Rep. Philip Wannenmacher said he ultimately voted for the bill, but was on the side of the banking industry during the negotiations.

Rep. Jim Kreider of Nixa said that, of all the legislation that has come through this session, the credit union bill drew the most comment to his office.

"It was a difficult situation. In southwest Missouri, we're blessed with many smaller banks. Those banks find themselves competing with credit unions," Kreider said.

He said he was pleased to see the compromise.

"I think everybody can live in peace now with what we've got," Kreider said.

The legislators were not sure what final form an economic development bill might take, but Champion was concerned that a provision to regulate tax-increment financing not be included. The provision would prohibit retail establishments from using TIF, and Champion said she was opposed to that.

"There's no reason retail establishments should not benefit from this form of financing," Champion said.

Both Bentley and Kreider agreed.

"In Springfield, we have been very prudent with our TIF funds and have used the program very well. It may be a concern for other cities, but we've set a good example," Bentley said.

Another provision that made it through that could benefit small businesses was the distressed-communities bill.

The provision provides tax credits to businesses that decide to locate in a distressed community, defined as any city in a metropolitan area which has a median household income of under 70 percent of the median income for the entire metropolitan area or any census block group in a metropolitan area which has a median income of under 70 percent of the entire metropolitan area.

The city or census block group can also be in a non-metropolitan area. Qualifying businesses must have fewer than 100 employees.

"This should provide some encouragement for small businesses to locate in distressed areas. I was very glad to see it pass," Champion said.

The provision was in a final version and awaiting agreement by both houses, but Champion said she believed it would ultimately be passed in some form this session.

A bill to allow small businesses to buy into the state's health insurance program is not likely to pass this session, Champion, Bentley and Rep. Roy Holand, agreed. Kreider said he thought the strength of the insurance companies in lobbying had harmed the bill's chances for success.

"I'm very disappointed that we didn't get that through. This would have allowed the small-business man to have the same advantages as big business and to buy insurance at a reasonable price," Kreider said.

Some budget provisions were included this year that will benefit Springfield, Kreider said, including the $10 million inclusion for the American National Fish and Wildlife Living Museum and Aquarium. The funding was divided into a $7.5 million allocation and a $2.5 million loan.

"This has been a good year for Springfield, one of the best in history," Rep. Chuck Wooten, of Springfield, said.[[In-content Ad]]

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