A prime example of the kind of nonsense that often happens in our General Assembly has occured with the bill filed by Rep. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, to enhance Missouri's Quality Jobs Act.
By the time the Senate was finished with the bill, it was overloaded with pork amendments (nearly 30 of them) and unable to come to an agreement on eliminating these items, the bill was instead passed on to the governor, and legislators are scrambling to undo the damage before the 2007 session ends this week:
For example, Republican leaders are frantically working to repeal provisions in the economic development bill that authorized a tax break for Internet sales, set up local agencies to govern railroads and guaranteed unlimited hunting in city floodplains. They also want to trim a sales tax exemption for utilities, revise the ticket-scalping law and clarify restrictions on tax-increment financing.
In what became a familiar refrain on Wednesday, legislators pointed out the flaws in the measure, known as HB327. Even the bill's sponsor, Rep. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, joined the chorus. He said a provision that would eliminate taxes for out-of-state Internet businesses was "absolutely horrible."
Companies that make Internet sales could avoid paying taxes on their distribution facilities in Missouri because the bill would change the definition of whether a company has a legal presence in the state.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce pushed for the change. Chamber President Dan Mehan said it would help Missouri attract more distribution facilities, such as one that is considering establishing a 150-job facility in Hazelwood.
The Missouri Retailers Association opposes the provision, saying it is unnecessary and unfair to homegrown firms that pay their share of taxes.
Another battle concerns railroads. Allen C. Harper, who runs a tourist train in Durango, Colo., wants to run a tourism train in Franklin and St. Louis counties but he has had no luck negotiating with AmerenUE over use of a rail line that runs to the utility's Labadie plant.
So Harper's lobbyist, former Sen. Franc Flotron, got the Legislature to set up local authorities to oversee rail lines. Flotron said his client merely wants to fix up the tracks and would still allow Ameren to use them.
But some legislators are trying to scrap the provision. Ameren's spokeswoman, Susan Gallagher, said she was unfamiliar with the issue and did not know whether Ameren was pushing for the deletion.
Some legislators say the late fixes are bad government.
"It's a high degree of chicanery," said Rep. Tom Villa, D-St. Louis, who says the last-minute moves also would create legal problems. For example, a ticket-scalping change was added to an unrelated bill on manufactured homes.
In another problem area, a requirement for county commissions to oversee tax-increment financing in the St. Louis region would exempt Franklin County. But the way the Legislature crafted the exemption has already been ruled unconstitutional by the Missouri Supreme Court because it singles out one county.
"There just tends to be a lack of experience," said Tim Fischesser, a lobbyist for the St. Louis County Municipal League.
The economic development bill also exempted certain products used in the manufacturing process from both state and local sales taxes. Cities and counties would lose $6 million, so legislators are amending bills to make the exemption apply only to state taxes.