April 1, 2015

Nixon-led Missouri trade mission to Europe enters last leg

A Missouri trade mission led by Governor Jay Nixon has gone from Germany to Spain.

Governor Jay Nixon and other Missouri trade delegation members meet with BMW executives in Munich, Germany.  (courtesy; Governor Nixon's Twitter account, @GovJayNixon)

Governor Jay Nixon and other Missouri trade delegation members meet with BMW executives in Munich, Germany. (courtesy; Governor Nixon’s Twitter account, @GovJayNixon)

The Governor says he wants to do three things with this trade trip: thank those companies that already trade with Missouri, let Missouri business leaders meet with their customers, and to look for ways to expand the already strong trade market Missouri has in Europe.

“I think we’re in a growth zone here. I mean, you’re seeing the economy of our state pick up and I think the fact that we are a great place to do business, I think we’re going to continue to see growth in this export sector to Europe,” Nixon told reporters on a conference call from Munich.

The trip has also visited Italy. Between the three countries it has stopped in, Missouri exports exceeded $577-million in 2014. Nixon hopes to increase Missouri exports, which he said reached $14.1-billion last year, the second highest year on record.

“2012 and 2014 were the two best years on record for export of Missouri goods, and these companies with us and a myriad of others will help us in continuing to create more jobs and make more exports,” said Nixon.

Nixon did not say that any new deals have been sealed during this trip.

Missouri has received international attention since August, when 18-year-old Michael Brown, Junior, was fatally shot by a Ferguson Police officer. Nixon says, though, that incident and the unrest that followed have not been major topics of discussion in his meetings with foreign officials.

“Just the fact that folks were aware of it because of the significant attention that it got, and that we appear to be trying to do some things concretely over the long run that are going to make a difference,” said Nixon.

The trip ends Saturday. It is being paid for by a nonprofit economic development group.

Missouri engineer wants a rebuilt I-70 to support vehicles with no drivers

An electrical and computer engineer from Raytown wants to rebuild Interstate 70 with so-called “smart pavement” technology to allow for vehicles with no drivers.

Electrical & Computer Engineer Tim Sylvester

Electrical & Computer Engineer Tim Sylvester

President of Integrated Roadways Tim Sylvester, will present his plan to Department of Transportation officials and the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission next week.

“We plan to present a public/private partnership to rebuild I-70 using smart pavement,” said Sylvester.  “Smart pavement provides intelligent transit services as a subscription service in order to support driver-less vehicles and wireless electric vehicle charging.”

Sylvester said smart pavement also has the capability to provide WI-FI to the general public traveling the interstate.  He said there would be no difference in the visual appearance of the road.

“Smart pavement is a pre-cast pavement system that has a variety of sensors in the pavement and communication services to provide location and navigation information to support driver-less vehicles,” said Sylvester.

Sylvester said profits from the subscription-based service would be shared with MoDOT, but drivers are not required to have it in order to drive on the interstate.

“After ten years of implementation of this service, the profits shared with the Department of Transportation would essentially double their budget,” said Sylvester.  “If you don’t subscribe, you’re just using it like a road.”

Sylvester thinks the service would appeal to commercial fleet operators and suggests the commercial trip fee would be two and a half cents per ton, per mile.

“This is primarily geared towards commercial fleet owners who can save about 15 percent on their shipping costs by using this service and double their shipping capacity, but it would also be available to private drivers,” said Sylvester.

Sylvester said smart pavement is more cost-effective than vehicles that can drive themselves made by Google or Mercedes.

“Those cars are hundreds of thousands of dollars and they’re not going to be cheaper for decades,” said Sylvester.  “We can make driver-less a lot cheaper and a lot more accessible by providing it as a subscription using sensors installed in the roadways.”

Sylvester said users would need to install a system into the vehicle similar to a Garmin after-market navigation unit or a GM OnStar kit.  Sylvester estimates the target price to install a driver-less system would be near $1000 to $1500 for passenger vehicles and a little more for commercial vehicles.

“The technology that we’re talking about to upgrade your vehicle is so much simpler than if you’re trying to upgrade your vehicle to be driver-less completely on its own without any sort of outside support,” said Sylvester.

Sylvester is planning to ask MoDOT for their recommendation to go forward with a pilot project to test the technology.  Sylvester said it would be a one mile stretch of road with smart pavement, but it would not be on I-70.

“It would take place somewhere that we’d be able to interrupt traffic and nobody would get upset with us,” said Sylvester.

Sylvester said the biggest obstacle against his smart pavement project will be dealing with political and legislative issues.

“We’ve got to get legislation for driver-less cars and we’ve got to get legislation for public/private partnerships,” said Sylvester.  “The best thing that the average person can do in order to support this is to call their legislator and voice their support and advocate for improving I-70 in a way that prepares us for the future and for all of the exciting technology to come.”

Sylvester said MoDOT estimates it would cost between $2- and $4 billion to rebuild I-70.  Sylvester estimates his smart pavement would cost $3.6 billion, but said MoDOT would only be responsible for 10 percent of the project under his public/private partnership plan.

Missouri Senate leader opens up about ‘right to work’ stance

One of the most potentially volatile issues facing the Missouri legislature was passed out of the House last week, in right-to-work. Last week the leader of the Missouri Senate told reporters he has doubts right-to-work can become law over a likely veto by Governor Jay Nixon (D), but said he would move it through the legislative process in the Senate.

Senator Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles)

Senator Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles)

On Tuesday, Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles) elaborated a great deal about his feelings on an issue he doesn’t actively push, but says he won’t stand in the way of.

Those feelings stem in part from relationships he says he’s grown up with and represented for the past 15 years, “and a number of them are union members or from union families,” he said. “Whereas I’ve worked on a lot of legislation that I never would have had the support of labor on but I thought was an issue that needed to be addressed, like second injury fund or things that we’ve done in workers’ compensation, those relationships have never gotten in the way of me doing my job and they won’t in this case.”

Dempsey reiterated he is not a staunch supporter of right-to-work.

“It’s not been one that I’ve been excited to take on, and it’s for a couple of different reasons,” Dempsey said. “One is I believe that there’s a reason for the formation of the unions. There were people back in the 1900s that exploited workers. Those people needed a voice and the unions helped provide, really, the impetus for an improvement in working conditions that we all enjoy. I am appreciative of that because I know that I am the beneficiary of many of the laws that are in place that they advocated for.”

Of the arguments made by right-to-work supporters, Dempsey said, “I also look at the state of Missouri and this competition that we have both with other states, and really internationally, to try to lure companies to Missouri, to help those who are in Missouri grow, and to help people who are looking at the cost of doing business in other states but they’re located here, and give them reasons to stay here. There are projects that I believe Missouri has, I believe, lost out on and sometimes the very first question asked was, ‘Are we a right-to-work state?’ So, we’ve been disqualified from those projects.”

Dempsey says right-to-work isn’t the only issue he says is raised when discussing Missouri’s business climate.

“There are also other issues related to the level of taxation in the state of Missouri, our legal climate: I think we’ve got one of the worst legal climates in the country. The regulatory hurdles that someone has to cross over in order to make investment. Having an educated workforce,” said Dempsey.

Right-to-work’s passage out of the Missouri House last week was historic. It marked the first time the issue had been passed out of either of the state’s legislative chambers. Dempsey and others have noted, however, the long road the issue has before becoming law.

“With a Democrat governor and the numbers that I saw in the House and where I believe we are in the Senate, I think we could possibly pass the right-to-work bill, but I don’t think in any way, shape, or form, we’d be able to override a governor’s veto,” said Dempsey.

Dempsey said he hasn’t decided how he will vote on right-to-work, but says when he has sought leadership positions in the House and Senate he has recognized that many of his caucus’ members support it.

Dempsey said, “I’ve not been someone who’s been an unabashed supporter of right-to-work, so in conversations I would have with them in their districts I said, ‘Listen, I know this issue’s important for you. It’s a tough one for me but I won’t use my position to block something you care about.’ As far as the Senate President position meant, it meant that there would be a committee that would be able to seriously consider it and potentially move it forward out of committee, and then ultimately it would mean that I be willing to place it on the calendar for consideration by the body on the floor of the Senate, and so I’m committed to doing both of those things.”

Dempsey also acknowledged the divisiveness of right-to-work and the lasting impact that could have on the still young session.

“There’s a lot of stuff we want to get done this year. Things that are important, like the student transfer bill that we’re working on this week,” said Dempsey. “I don’t want to blow this place up.”

Dempsey said he thinks “we all recognize” that supporters would have to use a “previous question” for the Senate to vote on right-to-work. A previous question is a motion that shuts off debate and forces a vote on an issue. A PQ, as it’s often called, is common in the state House, but in the Senate, where members are expected to respect one another’s right to speak on an issue, the motion is used rarely and can sour relations between factions.

Dempsey suggested he would be reluctant to see such a motion used, “On something that, and this is my opinion, that I have serious doubts about its ability to get done this year.”

Earlier story:  Missouri legislative leaders on chances of ‘right to work’ this year

Missouri legislative leaders on chances of ‘right to work’ this year

A “right to work” bill has been sent to the state Senate, but its leadership acknowledges doubt that it can become law this year.

Senator Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles)

Senator Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles)

A right-to-work law would bar workers from having to pay union dues as a condition of employment.

For the first time in Missouri a right-to-work bill has been passed out of a legislative body, having passed out of the state House. If that is passed by the Senate it is likely Governor Nixon would veto it, and House backers would need roughly 17 more votes to overturn a veto.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Ron Richard (R-Joplin) says that’s disappointing.

“I’d have been more anxious if it was 109 or 110,” said Richard. “We’ll see how it proceeds if it gets out of [a senate] committee.”

Senate President Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles) says the vote total in the House creates doubt the bill can become law this year.

“But many of my members, Republican senate members, are in support of right-to-work, believe it’s important from an economic development standpoint for the state to be a right-to-work state,” Dempsey told reporters. “I’m going to send it to the Small Business Committee and they’ll work on it. Should it get voted out of committee I’ll put the bill on the calendar at some point and then it’s anybody’s guess as to what happens.”

House leaders also acknowledge the bill might not become law this year, but House Speaker John Diehl, Junior (R-Town and Country) says its passage this year is historic and sends a strong message.

“Right-to-work will come to Missouri at some point in time. I think it’s inevitable,” Diehl said. “Hopefully we can get it done this year, but if not this year it’s going to keep being an issue until it crosses the finish line.”

See how House members voted to send the ‘right-to-work’ bill to the Senate

How they voted: Missouri House sends ‘right to work’ to the Senate

The Missouri House has voted 91-64 to send so-called “right to work” legislation to the state Senate, after voting 92-66 Wednesday night to end the amendment process and “perfect” the bill.

One state representative who voted for the perfection of the bill Wednesday was counted as “absent” for the vote on Thursday.

See our story from Wednesday’s vote here.

See the vote from Wednesday night here, and the vote Thursday below:

How they voted - right-to-work 02-12-2015

Click here to see how your state representative voted using the House’s representative search