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Missouri lawmakers were busy this week as the senate tackled healthcare and once again tried to pass a bill expanding tax credits for businesses. Meanwhile, the budget is making its way through the process. KSMU's Missy Shelton talks with the Dean of the Statehouse Press Corps about what happened in Jefferson City this week.
Shelton: Missouri lawmakers were busy this week as the senate tackled healthcare and once again tried to pass a bill expanding tax credits for businesses. Joining me on the phone as he often does during the legislative session is the dean of the statehouse press corps Phill Brooks. Phill, you had mentioned a few weeks ago that there appeared to be somewhat of a schism developing among republicans in the senate. How did that division manifest itself during debate this week in the senate?
Brooks: It really got a lot more severe this week on two issues. Jason Crowell is the leader of this rebellion, the former House Republican leader from Cape Girardeau and now in the Missouri Senate, and objecting to spending more state dollars on expanding Medicaid (the bill actually before the senate would provide subsidized insurance for lower-income employed people) but the big issue was that tax breaks for business proposal that the House passed and the governor has called for. There’s a coalition of about a third of senate republicans who are dead set against it. They call it designer tax credits. They want a bill that will provide complete legislative control over these tax credits for a variety of different businesses and special interests. They’ve been filibustering the bill, blocked a vote this week and give no indication that they’re backing down.
Shelton: Any chance the supporters of the tax credit bill are willing to compromise with this group of republicans who have raised several objections?
Brooks: Not yet. They supposedly next week are going to come back and work something out but I tell that Thursday, the language out of Jason Crowell was indicating he’s not in the mood to back down at all. It’s taken on the tone of a true public challenge in some areas to the current leadership of the Missouri Senate. The President Pro Tem Charlie Shields and the Senate Republican Floor Leader Kevin Engler and Jason Crowell is challenging them. And he’s not alone. There are some other members of the senate who would like to see a more conservative tack being taken by the senate.
Shelton: The constitutional deadline for passing the budget is May 8th. What’s the latest on how the budget is progressing through the legislature?
Brooks: The House of course passed the budget. The Senate Appropriations Committee is now working on it. The big fight between the House and Senate will be how much of the federal stimulus money will they roll into the budget and how much of it goes into ongoing budget projects rather than one time expenditures. The senate is supposedly going to be a bit more in the governor’s direction of including the stimulus money in some areas. The House has only used it for education and higher education. The House Budget Committee chair, in private, is putting together a bill of where he wants that stimulus money to go, says he’ll have something to introduce next week. Some democrats have complained that the secrecy with which he’s put that together really freezes out the membership of the House, and in particular democrats from having a significant voice in how these hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent. That I suspect will be one of the big issue that will be coming up in the legislature.