JEFFERSON CITY — It’s a fight that’s 27 hours in, and neither side is budging.
Of all of the legislation that could have caused a standstill in Senate, it turns out tax incentives for an improved car factory and Gov. Mike Parson’s Fast Track Program were the first things to gunk up the works in the session’s final week.
Senate Bill 68 provides tax incentives and money to attract businesses, in particular to entice General Motors to expand its plant in Wentzville, as well as funding for the governor’s work training program, one of his legislative priorities. Opponents argue that a smaller incentive package would be sufficient and that the state’s money could be better spent elsewhere, like education.
Members of the Senate Conservative Caucus have been speaking on the floor in two-hour shifts, and they say they will continue to until a compromise on the legislation is reached.
“We need to make this point,” Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, said. “If we don’t stand now, when do we stand?”
“The mission is to force compromise, that’s what the Senate body is all about — that’s what we’ve been trying to do for the past 20-plus hours,” Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, said.
Members of the caucus, like O’Laughlin and Eigel, have spent the past 27-hours at the state Capitol.
“We’ve all had rest because there are six of us, but it’s a little bit nerve-wracking,” O’Laughlin said.
The House of Representatives whipped up an alternate proposal that excludes the Fast-Track program and a “closing fund” meant to attract new business to the state, but the Senate has refused to bring that bill to the floor.
“The language in (House Bill 184) is different from the GM language that’s in (House Bill) 68, so there is a fundamental flaw, even specifically in the part that I think most of us generally agree on, which is the GM structure,” Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said.
Parson addressed the Conservative Caucus’ filibuster Tuesday in a news conference.
“I mean, right now we’ve got other issues important to us — the pro-life issues that we have out there; the tort reform, for some of us, is very important; but right now, we’re not talking about any issues down there,” Parson said.
Parson said he is optimistic the filibuster will end and not get in the way of other high-priority legislation like HB 126, which includes several anti-abortion measures. Members of the Conservative Caucus said they are also optimistic about the filibuster ending soon, but both sides admitted negotiations aren’t going as well as they’d like.
“(Parson) has had our group in to visit more than once — two or three times, in fact — and we just have never really been able to come to a total agreement,” O’Laughlin said.
“If (those meetings) were as fruitful as I’d like, I probably wouldn’t still be here,” Eigel said.
Parson said he has compromised, including with a lower dollar amount and a “sunset provision” that limits the lifespan of one of his signature proposals.
“Most of the changes to Fast Track have been their suggestions,” Parson said. “We’ve taken every one of them.”
When members of the caucus aren’t speaking on the Senate floor, they are strategizing with each other. Likewise, Parson is also on the move, speaking with senators and Senate leadership about what needs to be done. He stopped by the office of Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz for a meeting. Schatz has been a strong supporter of Parson’s priorities.
“We were talking about other issues we still have to do this week and try to get things done,” Parson said. “We’ve got several other issues on the table this week.”
During the press conference, Parson also addressed the possibility of calling a special session to ensure the most important legislation gets a chance to see the light of day, should worst come to worst.
“I’m confident we’re going to get this done,” Parson said. “I think this is doable. ... I think a majority of the people in this state, I think a majority, by far, of senators believe in this issue and it’s just giving them the opportunity to vote on it.”
If it does come to that, Eigel and O’Laughlin believe the governor will call a special session.
“I think he will,” O’Laughlin said. “Whether he should or not, I don’t know if I’m able to make that judgment.”
The legislative session ends 6 p.m. Friday, and with another day wasted, the General Assembly only has so much time to accomplish the things it says it wants to do. If things don’t come together soon for the Senate, the senators are in for another long night on a couch. Maybe a chair if they’re unlucky — the floor, if they’re really unlucky.
This story will be updated.
Supervising editor is Mark Horvit, email@example.com.