In roughly 3.5 hours, the Missouri House passed Thursday night a proposed incentives package geared toward landing a possible $1 billion expansion at GM’s plant in Wentzville. The chamber voted 92-51 in favor of the plan, with a few Republicans from the St. Louis region voting against the measure.
Reps. Tony Lovasco, R-O’Fallon, Justin Hill, R-Lake St. Louis, and Phil Christofanelli, R-St.Peters, voted against the bill. All of them represent St. Charles County and have districts near the plant.
The package would give $5 million per year in tax credits over 10 years to carmakers that invest at least $750 million in plant upgrades and would provide tax credits earlier in a business expansion. It would also provide financial aid for people seeking high demand fields and workforce training improvements for major expansions.
The General Motors factory, which opened in 1983, has about 4,600 workers. The average annual salary of employees at the plant is about $81,000.
According to documents provided by the Governor’s Office, the upgrades to the factory would not immediately create new jobs but would ensure that production remains in Wentzville long term. The documents also say GM has 178 suppliers throughout Missouri with the broader economic impact of the current site supporting more than 12,200 jobs statewide.
The district of Rep. Tony Lovasco, R-O’Fallon, is adjacent to the plant. He called the entire GM process “incredibly frustrating”.
“We are not only expected to vote on something last minute with little input, but in a lot of cases with little knowledge of what was even being negotiated. This was dropped very late. So that bothers me on principle,” Lovasco said. “We have lots of big employers in this state. Why would any of them not come to us next session and ask us for a package? This is big companies that have lobbyists coming to us with the threat of destroying a bunch of jobs if they don’t get freebies from us.”
Rep. Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, said the bill would encourage Missouri’s economic growth.
“The Ford plant closed. The Chrysler plant is closed,” he said. “This is an opportunity to increase a company’s presence in a community that has grown exponentially in the last 19 years.”
Wentzville is one of Missouri’s fastest-growing cities. Its current population is about 40,000. The city’s website says the city’s population skyrocketed from 6,896 in 2000 to 29,070 in the 2010 census.
An amendment from House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, would have tied incentives given to the promise of maintaining 100% of the current workforce. Rep. Rachel Proudie, D-Ferguson, supported Quade’s amendment.
“We’ve done a lot of quid pro quo in this body,” Proudie said. “I don’t trust anybody to give away $50 million. I want $50 million of Missouri’s money to stay in Missouri.”
Debate grew tense at times between bill sponsor, Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, and fellow Republican Justin Hill of Lake St. Louis. Hill agreed with Quade’s approach.
“Do you like this amendment seeing that it’s pretty conservative,” asked Hill.
“No, it’s very poorly-worded and I’m amazed that you would read this and think that this is conservative. It’s unrealistic,” says Schroer.
“Is it not conservative to put accountability measures on this so that they (GM) have to give us jobs for this $50 million handout,” asked Hill.
“There are accountability measures in here,” said Schroer. “The agency must promulgate rules on retention. We want the retention of jobs.”
“What’s wrong with putting it in statute,” asked Hill. “It’s our job to make sure our people’s money doesn’t get wasted.”
Schroer called it a poison pill amendment and said the state is not writing a $50 million check.
“Keep in mind this is not only about GM, this is about the hard-working people of Missouri – not only keeping their jobs but bringing more jobs here, making sure that we don’t have to ship off our citizens to California or waste other opportunities because we have to ship people off to other states that have good workforce development programs on these new technologies like Amazon has in St. Peters,” he said.
Quade’s amendment was ultimately voted down.
Another amendment from Rep. Dirk Deaton, R-Noel, would have banned legal permanent residents from acquiring benefits from the program. He said the state should be too restrictive.
Rep. David Wood, R-Versailles, pointed out Missouri’s two military bases with large numbers of soldiers serving overseas who could return with spouses from outside of the U.S.
“They’re just as American as you and I when they chose to marry that spouse and move to this country,” said Wood. “Our system precludes them from becoming a U.S. citizen immediately. So why are we punishing them for the three, five years, or whatever it takes to get that U.S. citizenship from a program that could benefit them or benefit the state?”
“Perhaps we should work together to change the immigration law,” asked Deaton.
“I don’t think we have the ability to change immigration law,” said Wood.
“I agree with you on that,” said Deaton.
Likely in an effort to contain his anger, Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, kept his testimony short. With a raised voiced, he called Deaton’s proposed provision mean-spirited and a “garbage amendment”.
Deaton later withdrew the amendment.
The measure heads to the Missouri Senate for consideration. The Legislature’s regular session ends next Friday.
Copyright © 2019 · Missourinet