Missouri lawmakers will be returning to work next week.
Gov. Eric Greitens’ office said Thursday that he would call a special session starting at 4 p.m. Monday that will focus on attracting a steel plant and an aluminum smelter to southeast Missouri.
“We are fighting to bring more jobs to the people of Missouri,” Greitens said in a statement.
Rep. Don Rone, a Republican from New Madrid County, attached language to several bills during the session that would have allowed the state to grant lower utility rates to the companies if they locate in the Bootheel, which Rone said could have led to 500 new jobs. But opposition in the Senate killed the proposal.
“Five hundred jobs would probably relate to 2,000 people and all of the secondary jobs that would come around,” Rone said. “Restaurants staying open, businesses staying open, our port facilities becoming even a greater asset.”
Opponents of Rone’s legislation showed no sign of backing down on Thursday.
Sen. Doug Libla, a Poplar Bluff Republican, said he has no problem offering incentives, including lower utility rates, to help attract jobs to the Bootheel. But Rone’s plan could lead to unnecessary electric rate increases for all consumers, Libla said in a statement Thursday.
“All it would do is benefit the utility company,” Libla said. “This would leave businesses and families vulnerable to monopoly utilities, such as Ameren.”
He said Missouri manufacturers are already allowed to request a lower electric rate by directly petitioning the Public Service Commission. Legislation isn’t required, he said.
Sen. Rob Schaaf, a St. Joseph Republican, alleged the governor may be calling a special session because he has recieved more than $170,000 in campaign donations from utility companies.
“And that is only what is reported, not what might have been given to his secret dark money committee or to his inaugural,” Schaaf said in a statement. “He is claiming that this is to bring jobs to Missouri, but this corporate welfare/cronyism has the appearance of impropriety, and there is no way for the people of Missouri to know there is no corruption involved.”
House Speaker Todd Richardson, also a Poplar Bluff Republican, voiced support for Rone’s legislation, saying the House would work to quickly get the bill to the governor’s desk.
“This is an issue that received overwhelming support in the House during the regular session as our entire chamber realized the significant economic boost these jobs can provide for southeast Missouri and our state as a whole,” Richardson said in a statement Thursday afternoon.
Greitens hinted last Friday that he was going to call a special session. But he provided no details or any time line for when he might make a decision. He also posted a photo on social media hugging Rone on the last day of the session.
Since then, rumors have percolated through the Capitol about what might be on the agenda of a special session.
The governor had floated the idea of including legislation repealing the state’s prevailing wage law, which sets minimum wages for public construction workers on a county-by-county basis. He also suggested taking up legislation enacting new regulations on public employee unions.
Rep. Shamed Dogan, a St. Louis County Republican, publicly called for a special session on ethics reform. And U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill asked Greitens to include legislation in the special session that would establish a prescription drug monitoring program in Missouri.
But Greitens’ office said Thursday that the special session would have one topic: the steel mill and other projects in southeast Missouri.
But calling lawmakers back into session can have its pitfalls.
First, special sessions can be expensive. The 163-member Missouri House estimates it will cost $50,000 to $100,000 a week, depending on how often the full chamber meets. The 33-member Senate, with one vacancy, estimates a $28,000 a week cost to taxpayers.
These costs reflect lawmakers’ daily per diem, mileage to and from the Capitol and costs of supporting session-only staff.
Second, there is no guarantee a special session will end in success.
In 2010, former Gov. Jay Nixon called lawmakers into special session to approve tax incentives to Ford Motor Co. in hopes of saving the Claycomo auto plan. The incentive package passed, despite fierce resistance from some conservative senators, and today Claycomo employs more than 7,000 workers.
The next year, Nixon called lawmakers back again to approve tax incentives aimed at turning the St. Louis airport into a hub for freight flown between China and the Midwest. The agenda also included a handful of other items.
Republican in-fighting created gridlock, and the special session dragged on until the 60-day constitutional deadline to adjourn without the incentives winning approval.
Some are questioning the wisdom of calling lawmakers back to the Capitol after just completing a fractious session. That’s especially true of the Senate, where GOP leadership often quarreled with fellow Republicans, resulting in far few bills passing this year than in nearly two decades.
And Democrats may still be upset over the events that transpired on the final day of the session, when Republicans cut off debate to force a vote on legislation aimed at stopping St. Louis and Kansas City from raising the minimum wage.