A House committee has approved a bill that could provide Ford up to $100 million in incentives to keep its Claycomo factory at full production. But the committee’s changes might have placed the bill on shaky legal ground.

State Economic Development Director David Kerr tells members of the House Job Creation and Economic Development Committee that Ford has made no promises to keep Claycomo running at full capacity if the bill passes this special session.

“Yet, I think the one thing that is very clear, particularly since the end of the last session is if we do not do this bill, then I think we are in serious trouble,” Kerr says.

HB 2 itself might be in trouble. Committee chairman Tim Flook, a Republican from Liberty, has amended the measure. He folded the Automotive Manufacturing Jobs Act sponsored by Rep. Jerry Nolte (R-Gladstone) into the Quality Jobs Program, earmarking $15 million a year for automotive manufacturers and their suppliers. Flook also expanded the bill, carving out incentives to lure more data centers to Missouri.

It is that expansion that has caught the eye of the governor’s office. John Watson, Governor Nixon’s Chief of Staff, has written Flook, saying that the language exceeds the Governor’s call for the special session. Watson adds that the change makes the bill vulnerable to a lawsuit.

Flook gets the point.

“You know the governor’s staff has pointed out, correctly pointed out, that the call for special session was a narrow call. I would agree with that,” Flook tells committee members. “However, this is a big issue and the governor still has the power to amend his call for the special session to cover legislation like this.”

It doesn’t appear Governor Nixon is interested in expanding the call. His office issued a written statement from the governor.

In the call for this legislative session, I made clear that our priority is passing legislation to bring next-generation automotive jobs to Missouri. There is broad, bipartisan consensus on the need to pass such a bill, as shown by the 14-to-1 vote by the House Committee on Job Creation and Economic Development to approve manufacturing jobs legislation and the unanimous vote by the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, Pensions and Urban Affairs to reform the state pension system.

While I am pleased the legislature has recognized the urgency of this issue, we must keep our focus squarely on the critical issues outlined in the call. The call for this extraordinary session was properly and narrowly focused to pass that legislation quickly and at minimum cost to taxpayers. It is important for the House and Senate to act within the narrow legal limits of the call, and I expect that members of both chambers will stay focused on our shared goal. We will continue to work together to maintain today’s momentum toward making a real difference for Missouri’s automotive industry.

Several members of the House committee members grumbled that the two issues have been tied together. They contend the economic development bill should stand on its own. They reject the notion that the pension overhaul must be approved to pay for the jobs bill.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:60 MP3]