JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers say Republican Gov. Eric Greitens' admission that he had an extramarital affair is distracting from legislative efforts to change the state's tax laws, one of the key issues outlined by the governor and top GOP lawmakers for this year.
Republicans still will try to send a tax bill to Greitens' desk even as the scandal, which also involves blackmail allegations, appears to have at least temporarily derailed his own work on taxes. Greitens delayed a planned promotional tour that had been slated to start Tuesday, and he still hasn't rolled out his own tax proposal. Spokesman Parker Briden has said that will happen this week.
"I absolutely think it's going to be up to the Legislature to lead on this issue. That's what we're embracing here," Republican Sen. Bill Eigel, a tax cut supporter, said Tuesday after a hearing on his bill that proposes phasing out the state income tax.
Last week Greitens promised the "boldest state tax reform in America" during his State of the State address. But within hours of the speech ending, St. Louis television station KMOV reported that the governor had an affair in 2015 with his hairdresser.
Greitens admitted to the affair shortly after the TV report. His private attorney, Jim Bennett, later denied the woman's claim to her now ex-husband, recorded without her knowledge during a March 2015 conversation, that Greitens took a partially nude photo of her and threatened to release it if she spoke about their relationship.
The affair and the allegations continue to draw backlash from lawmakers. Several of Greitens' Republican colleagues in the Legislature called on him to resign Tuesday.
"That kind of distraction and that type of scandal isn't helping us get out our message" on economic issues, said Eigel, who is not among those seeking his resignation.
It also doesn't help that Greitens, who was elected in November 2016, has repeatedly criticized the Republican-led Legislature since taking office last year, comparing lawmakers to third-graders and calling them "career politicians." A nonprofit that formed to support Greitens' agenda last year aired attack ads and sent robocalls against senators who have been in disagreements with the governor, and Greitens has angered some by appointing new members to the State Board of Education in an attempt to orchestrate the firing of the state education commissioner.
Rep. Travis Fitzwater, who is among Republican lawmakers spearheading tax proposals, said the recent turmoil doesn't help as lawmakers begin debate on taxes. But he said his House colleagues will keep working and "let the chips fall as they may."
Fitzwater and other Republicans hoping to build on momentum from the passage of federal tax cuts last year now are pushing forward with their own tax proposals absent a plan from the governor.
Eigel and Fitzwater both said they still plan on working with Greitens. They need his support, Eigel said, to enact a bill.
But Eigel also said no bill has yet been filed that's based purely on Greitens' proposal, and it's getting late to introduce legislation.