Legislative Update: Data Centers, Transportation Funding and more
With only four weeks left in the legislative session, the Capitol is full of activity, including efforts to get legislation across the finish line and for the House and Senate to reach agreement on the proposed 2016 state budget. Below is a status update on a few top Chamber priorities.
The biggest win so far this session is the passage of SB 149, sponsored by Senator Mike Parson (R-Bolivar). This legislation was signed by the Governor and will create state and local sales and use tax exemptions for data storage centers. This legislation creates a powerful tool to help bring data center sites and jobs to Missouri, since most of the surrounding states already have data center exemptions. During the Chamber's 2014 Leadership Visit to Omaha, Nebraska, we heard from business leaders about how the presence of a Yahoo data center evolved to be the 5th largest Yahoo operation in the country bringing over 400 new jobs to the area. Omaha officials indicated Omaha was selected over Springfield for this facility due to a data center incentive Nebraska could offer. Data center legislation has been a Chamber priority for many years, and we applaud the leadership of our local delegation for helping ensure its passage, including Sen. Mike Parson, Sen. Jay Wasson and Rep. Kevin Austin.
SB 540, a transportation funding measure sponsored by Senator Doug Libla (R- Poplar Bluff) would have initially been a step in addressing our state’s critical transportation funding gap by raising the tax on motor fuel by two cents immediately and by an additional four cents over the next two years. Once the bill was introduced, however, in an attempt to eliminate possible opposition, Sen. Libla introduced a substitute that changed the proposal to a simple 2-cent fuel tax. Even with the substitute, the legislation has stalled in the senate. Transportation funding for the state is at a critical level and we stand to lose all federal matching dollars if a solution cannot be reached.
This increase is not even a long-term solution to the transportation problem, but would at least prevent the federal matching loss. We encourage you to contact your senator and let them know the importance of bringing this measure to a vote and sending it to the House of Representatives.
The Conference Committee failed to convene last week to reconcile the budget bills, but those discussions are expected to resume today. The Chamber will continue to closely monitor the Conference Committee proceedings since much is at stake for our area including $10 million for the Springfield Clinical Campus - a partnership with CoxHealth, Mercy and the University of Missouri - and the $1.3 million for the Missouri State University Occupational Therapy program. Inclusion of these funds in the core budget would ensure students can enroll in these programs in the next academic year. Most of the conflict stalling the budget discussions centers on the funding structures of HB 10 and 11 which provide funding for the Departments of Health, Mental Health, and Social Services.
SB 18, sponsored by Sen. Will Kraus (R-Lee's Summitt) would require the Department of Revenue to notify sellers if there is a change in sales tax law interpretation. This legislation was was passed out of the Senate by a vote of 34-0 and is expected to be heard in the House Ways and means Committee this week. A similar bill, HB 299, sponsored by Rep. Denny Hoskins (R-Warrensburg) was passed by the House and heard in the Senate Ways and Means Committee where it remains.
Employment Law Reform
Rep. Kevin Austin's (R-Springfield) employment law reform bill, HB 1019, is expected to be heard this week in the Senate Judiciary Committee. This bill seeks to realign Missouri’s employment laws to be consistent with existing federal laws. The bill passed the House with a vote of 95-60 and will now be heard in the Senate.