Disagreements over tax credits split Republican state senators
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Disagreements over tax credits split Republican state senators

Date: April 9, 2009
By: Valerie Insinna
State Capitol Bureau
Links: SB 45

JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri Senate's Thursday morning session started with a bang after squabbles between fellow Republican senators broke out during a late Wednesday night debate on tax credit legislation.

In early February, the House passed a similar economic development bill that would award tax credits to businesses that create new jobs in the state. However, some Republican senators have supported heavier restrictions on issuing tax credits, an issue that has divided the majority party.

During Wednesday's 10-hour session, bill sponsor Sen. John Griesheimer, R-Washington, said the legislation was being held hostage by a couple of individuals.

"This place is being shook down -- I hate to say it, but I absolutely believe it -- by forces outside this building," he said.

Although Griesheimer did not name who he felt was holding up the bill, Cape Girardeau Republican Jason Crowell said during Thursday's Senate session that he believed Griesheimer was talking about him.

"You accused me of a crime last night," Crowell, who has been one of the bill's most outspoken opponents, said.

After denying that he called Crowell a criminal, Griesheimer said, "If I get mad enough, trust me, you'll know it."

"What? What? Are you threatening me?" Crowell responded. 

Crowell has advocated sending tax credits through the legislature's appropriations process and eliminating the Missouri Development Finance Board's ability to issue tax credits.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon asked for legislation on the issue to be ready for his endorsement before the legislative spring break in mid-March. Although any such measure would not go into effect until August, Nixon has encouraged senators to put aside their discussion on tax-credit reform in an effort to create jobs in the state and to stimulate a fragile economy. 

The argument between Crowell and Griesheimer on Thursday was interrupted by Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, who jokingly introduced to the floor Dr. Phil, the psychologist and talk show host who appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show as a couples' counselor.

"I'd recommend a lot of us kind of sit down and have our conversations outside (in) the gallery that are more personal in nature instead of on the body of the floor, and I'd like to welcome our relationship expert, Dr. Phil," he said.

The recommendation was not followed. 

After Griesheimer denied Crowell's request to inquire of him again, Crowell spoke on a point of personal privilege about how he was trying to help make Missouri a better place by voicing his concerns with the legislation.

Griesheimer said he wants to compromise with Crowell but that Crowell should also be willing to make concessions in an effort to help struggling Missouri businesses create jobs.

"The position that he has taken on the bill ... on this subject of appropriations language, no other state that we can find has done that," he said. "That would kill the tax credit program in the state of Missouri. I would hope that's not his goal."

Crowell, in turn, has said he feels tax credits for Missouri businesses have been too selective and are not always in the best interest of the state. 

Griesheimer's legislation is not only opposed by Republicans. Sen. Jeff Smith, D-St. Louis, has said he would filibuster the bill for capping historic preservation tax credits.

Smith said the level of civility in the Senate hit a low this week.

"We saw personal attacks at several senators, all of the other party," he said. "Relationships are what makes this place work."

Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, said that when Democrats held a majority in the House, they were constantly bickering and that internal arguments among a political party are normal.

"Part of the problem I see is that the Republicans came in seven years ago and really marched through on their agenda and got some major things done very quickly," she said. "And now that some of the big items are done, and they're getting to some of the other issues, there is more disagreement and more division -- even within their own party. The feeling is that the way you get something done is by muscling it ... Maybe what's happening now is you can't get things done that way anymore."

At the conclusion of Thursday's session, the Senate's top Republican, Charlie Shields, of St. Joseph, called on the body to consider compromise during an extended Easter weekend and in the five remaining weeks of the legislative session.