Mo. Senate panel pares back incentive bill to focus on automakers, cuts out computer centers

By David A. Lieb, AP
Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mo. Senate panel pares back incentive package

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A Senate committee pared back an incentive package Wednesday to focus solely on Missouri’s automotive industry, shedding other proposed tax breaks at the request of Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration.

The committee’s action set the framework for a scheduled Senate debate Thursday on the engine of this summer’s special legislative session — automaker incentives aimed primarily at Ford Motor Co.’s assembly plant near Kansas City. Lawmakers also are considering a moneysaving overhaul of Missouri’s retirement system.

The Missouri Constitution gives the governor the authority to set the scope of special sessions, and Nixon limited the agenda to the automaker and retirement bills. Yet the House on Tuesday passed an expanded bill offering tax breaks to computer data storage centers, elderly homeowners and a variety of transportation-related manufacturers.

That House version was heard Wednesday by the Senate Jobs, Economic Development and Local Government Committee. Panel chairman John Griesheimer, R-Washington, said he received a call shortly before the meeting from Nixon’s staff urging him scale back the legislation to cover only the automotive provisions in compliance with the governor’s call for the special session.

That’s what the committee ultimately decided to do.

“The bottom line here is, as much as I want and desire the data center language to be in the bill, this committee is bound by constitutional law, and right now, we can only go as far as what the governor’s call is,” Griesheimer said.

Nixon says the automotive incentives are essential because Ford is nearing a decision on where to make its next generation of vehicles, and labor union leaders say the Claycomo plant is due to stop making its current models of sport utility vehicles by the end of next year.

Those pushing for incentives for computer data centers say their cause is equally urgent, and they plan to continue pressing Nixon to expand the agenda for the special session.

Dave Griggs, chairman of the Columbia-based Regional Economic Development Inc., said several companies are considering locating computer data centers in central Missouri, including two prospects that would invest more than $1 billion each in facilities. He declined to identify either company, but Griggs said one is planning a site visit in July and intends to announce the location of its data center in September. Griggs said he expects a second company to pick its site by November.

It’s critical for Missouri to offer sales tax exemptions on the materials used to construct and equip the data centers, Griggs said.

“If we ain’t ready when the company’s ready, we ain’t got nothing,” Griggs told the Senate committee.

Meanwhile, a separate Senate retirement committee approved changes to the state worker retirement system that raises the minimum retirement age, calls for new employees to start contributing 4 percent of their pay and requires employees to work for the state longer before qualifying for a pension.

That legislation also establishes a board to oversee the investments of the Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System and those of a separate pension system for the Department of Transportation and Highway Patrol.

The House approved its own version of the pension legislation Wednesday that does not include the investment board, in part because some fear it would create another layer of government bureaucracy. The House bill also does not require more government service for employees to be vested in the pension plan and increases the retirement age by less than what the Senate panel has approved.



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