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Back from break, Missouri lawmakers to work on spending, taxes, economic incentives

Updated: 2013-03-25T01:29:45Z

By CHRIS BLANK

The Associated Press

— Missouri lawmakers return to the Capitol on Monday with a to-do list that includes the state budget and various legislative priorities such as addressing taxes, economic incentives and pay requirements for wages on public works construction projects.

The Legislature recessed last week for its annual midsession spring break. Lawmakers face a May 17 adjournment and have a May 10 deadline to approve the budget that takes effect in July. House Speaker Tim Jones said his chamber is likely to tackle the roughly $24 billion budget this upcoming week. Six hours have been set aside for debate.

During the second half of the legislative session, Jones said the House also plans action on bills that would limit noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases after the state Supreme Court struck down an existing cap, replenish an insolvent fund for disabled workers and address Missouri's tax and economic incentives policies. Plus, he expects discussion about evaluating teachers and permitting parents to petition for changes at struggling schools.

“We have a lot to do after the break,” said Jones, R-Eureka.

Republicans in the Senate have taken aim at some of those issues already, and President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey said nine priorities have passed.

“Senate Republicans this year wanted to set a path to move major policy initiatives to help get people working in the state of Missouri, to spur employment, to increase personal incomes and to grow our economy in a way where we would be a leader in our region and a leader in the nation,” said Dempsey, R-St. Charles.

The Senate has approved legislation that seeks to help the Second Injury Fund by temporarily doubling the fee businesses could be charged and limiting the types of injuries the fund covers. It also would clarify that occupational diseases are covered by the workers' compensation system, which resolves claims through an administrative process instead of civil lawsuits. People suffering from certain diseases caused by exposure to toxins could qualify for an enhanced benefit.

On taxes, senators passed a 1-cent sales tax to boost funding for transportation and a separate measure that would reduce the income tax for individuals and corporations by three-quarters of a percentage point over five years while raising the state sales tax by one-half cent over the same period. The Senate also endorsed a tax credit plan that would authorize incentives for air cargo exports, so-called angel investors in startup technology businesses and computer data centers while reducing tax credits available for developing low-income housing and renovating historic buildings.

House leaders have praised the idea of a smaller income tax in favor of a higher sales tax. They also want to address tax credits but have been skeptical about shrinking the incentives available for low-income housing and renovating historic buildings. Republicans control a veto-proof supermajority in both chambers.

Nixon praised the Senate's tax credit legislation but sent lawmakers a letter objecting to the tax overhaul. The Democratic governor expressed concern about how the sales tax increase would affect seniors, veterans and families.

The Legislature also plans to consider changes to how unions collect and spend dues. The Senate endorsed a requirement that many public employee unions get permission each year to deduct dues and fees from paychecks and to use them for political contributions. House members passed their own bill that would demand all labor unions get annual consent to use fees for campaign contributions.

The House also approved changes to the prevailing wage law setting the floor for what workers must be paid on public construction projects. Dempsey said changing the prevailing wage law is a priority.

Lawmakers also could discuss legislation that would allow Missouri power companies to seek to levy an infrastructure surcharge between their rate cases and a bond package to pay for construction on college campuses, state facilities and other projects.

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