Senate stuck on Fast Track, GM investment incentives

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JEFFERSON CITY — An incentive package pushed by Gov. Mike Parson, designed to convince General Motors to invest up to $1 billion in its Wentzville plant, was tripped up Monday by members of Parson’s own party.

Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, kicked off a multihour filibuster in the Senate on Monday on the subject of Senate Bill 68, which contains a package of incentives to attract projects like GM, including Fast Track, a program providing financial aid for training in high-demand fields, and One Start, which funds Missouri workforce training programs. It also allows tax credits to attract investment in the state.

Eigel said that while the current deal would benefit his county — where many of the GM plant workers live — he can’t support it because it would unconstitutionally give taxpayer money to GM and would offer too many unnecessary incentives on Missouri’s end of the deal. He said he thought the GM deal could be achieved through existing programs.

Speaking about Senate Bill 68, Eigel said, “Ostensibly, it would include almost $50 million of tax credits. Fifty million dollars in tax credits is the equivalent of about $20 for every household in the state of Missouri.” He added, “The passage of Senate Bill 68 means that every household in the state will effectively be writing a $20 check to General Motors.”

The bill began as a motion to allow the names and contact information of workforce development board members to be listed online, but was soon changed by the House, and Fast Track and One Start provisions were added, along with the other incentives.

Eigel’s statements came on the heels of a Twitter battle between Eigel and Rob Dixon, Director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development.

Dixon tweeted Sunday that in an April 25 meeting, GM asked the state to create workforce and infrastructure programs and move forward with the bill, including the Fast Track provisions. He said offering incentives could “secure the long-term viability” of the plant.

In a response to Dixon’s tweets, Eigel said that he had not been told by GM that Fast Track was a necessary condition for GM’s expansion to occur. Eigel was in attendance at the April 25 meeting, according to representatives of the Governor’s Office.

While the Senate was mired in a filibuster, the House attempted to craft a compromise.

Senate Bill 184, handled by Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, is a similar workforce development bill to SB 68, but it removes the Fast Track provisions.

Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, said this legislation gives the Senate options, so that there is something on the governor’s desk by the end of session Friday.

Representatives weren’t entirely supportive of the bill, but they viewed it as a better alternative to SB 68.

“While this, I think, is a good alternative to the garbage we passed last week, we still have to understand that we are not giving a tax cut to Missourians — we are actually taking their money (and) giving it to one corporation,” Rep. Justin Hill, R-Lake St. Louis, said. “In the meantime, we have an impending tax cut in 2020 that we’re going to have to fight to hold the line so that we don’t go after our citizens for more tax money.”

Kelli Jones, press secretary for Parson’s office, said Parson stands behind the bill that includes Fast Track as a complete package. Communications Director Steele Shippy said that while there’s always a chance for change at the end of a session, the governor was confident in the Senate leadership’s assurance that they could carry SB 68 through.

The Senate filibuster, continued by other members of the conservative caucus, had been going on for more than seven hours by press time. Sens. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, and Eigel condemned President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, for refusing to take up an alternate version of the bill sent over by the House.

Onder and Schatz traded contentious comments about the two versions of the bill. Onder said he also had major objections to the proposed deal-closing fund, which offers tax incentives to lure businesses to the state, which he called a “slush fund.”

Schatz said he would not take up SB 184 and would only move forward with SB 68, the version preferred by Parson.

Caitlyn Rosen contributed to this report.

Supervising editor is Mark Horvit, horvitm@missouri.edu.

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