The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Tornado: Columns

July 24, 2011

Susan Redden: Jobs, disaster recovery to be special session topics

A job creation package will be the focus of a special legislative session this fall, and another priority will be paying for recovery from disasters in Missouri, including the May 22 tornado.

Plans for the session were outlined last week by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and Republican leaders in the Missouri House and Senate.

Job creation was to have been the centerpiece of the legislative session that ended in May, but that didn’t happen.

House and Senate leaders last week announced that they had reached a consensus on economic development issues for the special session, with measures designed to create new incentives to keep jobs and bring new ones to the state. That will be combined with more than $1.5 billion in savings to be achieved by reducing or eliminating some tax credit programs, and requiring timely reviews of such programs.

Lawmakers stressed the need for those efforts, noting that some surveys rank Missouri’s economy the third worst in the United States.

House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, said the proposed changes will make incentive programs more accountable by requiring periodic reviews or automatic sunsets. The reviews will require the programs to prove they are meeting state goals or face automatic elimination, with the savings to pay for additional economic incentives.

The proposals would authorize new job creation programs including turning Lambert International Airport in St. Louis into an international trade hub, attracting high-tech jobs to the state, adding incentives to encourage data centers to locate in Missouri, creating new job training programs, and adding a tax credit to attract national sporting events to the state.

Nixon has said the special session should include action on paying for the state response to the Joplin tornado and other disasters in Missouri, including flooding. He already has instructed Linda Luebbering, budget director, to set aside $150 million. State efforts toward Joplin’s recovery announced by the governor in recent weeks include $75 million in economic development aid, nearly $20 million for the Missouri Disaster Recovery Jobs program, $2 million for a Joplin Child Trauma Center, and $122 million in housing tax credits and incentives for builders, developers and homeowners.

Sen. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said that for Joplin residents right now, he believes housing is more important than jobs.

“We still want people to go to work, but we have to get them into a home,” he said.

Richard said he has asked Joplin officials how the state can help with financing and tax credits to get people into homes, especially residents who are finding that insurance payments on their former homes fall short of what it costs to get them into new housing.

“We need to fill that gap, and still do some job creation,” he said.

Richard said he expects reports from interim committees on disaster recovery will be ready for review in the special session.

The Joplin senator is chairman of the Senate committee. That committee, along with a House panel that held hearings in Joplin, will determine what actions the state can take to help residents and government agencies as they recover and rebuild form recent natural disasters.

Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, was named vice chairman of the House panel. Other members included Charlie Davis, R-Webb City, and Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage.

Richard said he hopes findings from both committees can be combined and presented to the Legislature for the special session.

“I’m going to ask House members to give us a sense of what they heard, put it together with our report and come up with some recommendations,” he said.

SUSAN REDDEN is a staff writer for the Globe. She can be reached at sredden@joplinglobe.com or 417-623-3480, ext. 7258.

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Tornado: Columns
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  • Jo Ellis: Small deeds will make a big impact

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