Missouri high court strikes down science incentive fund

A Missouri incentive fund for science and technology businesses has been quashed before it could get started as the state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that lawmakers had illegally linked its existence to an unrelated economic development proposal.

The high court’s unanimous opinion upholds a ruling last year by a Cole County judge, who said a contingency clause in the Missouri Science and Innovation Reinvestment Act violated a state constitutional requirement that bills address only a single subject.

The fund had been intended to generate millions of dollars for Missouri’s biotechnology industry by setting aside some tax revenues generated by existing science and technology firms to finance grants for similar startup businesses.

The Missouri Biotechnology Association, which had worked to get the incentives passed, said the court ruling will force it to rethink its strategy.

“We felt like we had a comprehensive piece of legislation that could move the state forward and help diversify our economy in the high-tech sector,” said executive director Kelly Gillespie.

Although passed by lawmakers during a 2011 special session and signed by Gov. Jay Nixon, the legislation contained a clause making it effective only upon passage of a separate proposal overhauling the state’s tax credit programs.

That separate bill ultimately failed, yet Nixon directed his administration to implement the new incentive fund anyway and sought to include a total of $5 million in the 2012 and 2013 budgets to get it going.

That prompted a lawsuit by the Missouri Roundtable for Life and other anti-abortion activists who feared the fund could have been used to finance human embryonic stem cell research.

St. Louis attorney Steve Clark, who argued the challenger’s case before the Supreme Court, said he was gratified by the victory.

“This was a logrolled bill … that was a handout of taxpayer funds to the governor’s pet projects,” Clark said.