What a mess. The dysfunctional ways of the Missouri General Assembly are on full display this week.
Consider how a straightforward issue of great importance to Eastern Jackson County and the rest of the Kansas City area has gone off the rails in just a couple of days.
It’s about the Ford Claycomo plant, which employs 3,900 people, many of them living in Independence, Blue Springs and elsewhere in the area. Some work at Claycomo is shifting out of state. State leaders have been keen to get Ford to commit to a new product at Claycomo, and there is a fear that Ford will either commit or walk away from Claycomo entirely and move those jobs elsewhere.
State officials want to offer about $15 million a year in tax breaks to entice Ford to stay. The General Assembly didn’t get around to passing that however. The House said the yes; the Senate let it die on the last day of the regular session in May.
Ford is thought to be figuring out Claycomo’s future now, so it’s unwise to put this on the we’ll-get-around-to-it-next-year list. Gov. Nixon, thinking there was consensus on the issue, called a special session to approve the tax break and approve a second bill – a change in state pensions – to pay for it.
But it’s never easy.
The shenanigans came into full view on Monday, House Speaker Ron Richard removed two local lawmakers – state Rep. Will Kraus, R-Raytown, and Rep. Bryan Pratt, R-Blue Springs – from a key committee because they wouldn’t promise to vote the way Richard wanted (for the tax break). Pratt, mind you, is speaker pro tem – the No. 2 position in the House – and is therefore an ex officio member of all committees. It’s extremely unusual for the speaker to act in such a high-handed manner.
What is Richard’s problem? The bill passed out of committee easily. Pratt opposes the Ford tax break. So what? This is a radical thought in Jefferson City, but public policy is more important than party discipline. Let him speak, let him vote, and move on.
It got worse on Tuesday. The House decided to broaden the tax breaks to include other manufacturers as well as data centers and seniors. The state’s Constitution is pretty clear: Governors call special sessions to deal with specific topics, and even some lawmakers said they might have stepped outside the limits. What are we to expect? That a court might soon have to invalidate everything done this week?
This needn’t be so political, petty or complicated. Are these jobs important enough to merit state intervention – yes or no? Are we willing to pay a certain amount to keep them – yes or no? Do we have a way to offset those costs that everyone can live with – yes or no? Vote, up or down. The rest is a soap opera.