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House approves incentive package aimed to attracted GM Wentzville expansion

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The House brought up and attached to a Senate bill an incentive package spurred by a potential $1 billion investment from General Motors in its Wentzville plant Thursday night. 

The House voted 92-51 in favor of a comprehensive economic development proposal. Added to Sen. Lincoln Hough’s SB 68 on the Missouri One Start Program was a House amendment that included a new version of the Fast Track grant program and tax credits for investments from automotive manufacturers.

“I am confident this will show not only General Motors here tonight but the rest that Missouri is open for business,” said Rep. Nick Schroer, the Republican who offered the amendment.

At the beginning of May, officials from Generals Motors met with Gov. Mike Parson and other state leaders to begin preliminary talks about a potential $1 billion expansion at its Wentzville plant.

General Motors Wentzville Assembly has been operating since 1983 and employs roughly 4,600 hourly and salary employees who work over three shifts. The plant is situated on 438 acres of land in a former wheat field about 40 miles west of St. Louis in Wentzville.

One of the major pieces of the incentive package designed to lure the expansion to Missouri is tax incentives for the automotive industry. The automotive economic development provision is aimed at helping retain automotive jobs by granting $5 million in tax credits annually to manufacturers that invest $500 million or more in plant upgrades and agree to retain current workers.

Missouri’s current overall tax credit liability is unknown.

The other provision added to the bill is a new version of the Fast Track grant program. The program, which would create a scholarship program for adults seeking training in high demand jobs, has had a rocky time in the state Senate.

The original version of the program has made it to the Senate floor but received considerable pushback from some lawmakers, and there is debate on what a path forward would look like — if there is one.

Based on some of the criticisms of the versions currently in the General Assembly, lawmakers made some tweaks to the program.

“Some of the concerns I had, you are addressing,” said Rep. Ron Hicks, who noted he originally had many reservations about the program.

The new version of Fast Track will sunset after three years, unless reauthorized. If reauthorized, it would then be renewed for a six-year period. It also requires the funds be used after all other aid has been distributed.

Those who receive the grant would be required to live in Missouri within 12 months of graduation and then live and work in the state for three years.

“If we in a state are going to invest in you, we are counting on you to invest in us, and if you don’t it will be converted into a loan,” said Schroer.

But those changes were not enough to sway everyone.

“Haste makes waste, and there’s a lot of waste here,” said Republican Rep. Bryan Spencer.

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade questioned the lack of employee retention provisions in the bill and unsuccessfully attempted to tie tax credits to a company maintaining current employment levels.

“All of us will feel bad, I think, if we gave a company $50 million in taxpayer dollars and they turn around and lay off half their employees,” said Rep. Kip Kendrick, a Democrat.

Following the passage of the bill in the House, Gov. Mike Parson praised House leadership and Schroer specifically. 

“We are now one step closer to passing one of the most comprehensive workforce and economic development proposals that proves to the country that Missouri is open for business,” Parson said. “Missouri will soon have the tools to compete and win big for jobs and growth across the entire state.”

The bill now goes back to the other side of the Capitol, where a warm reception is questionable. Provisions in the bill have stalled on the Senate floor, and some lawmakers in the upper chamber have previously raised doubts on the incentive plan. Yet, some lawmakers praised the House’s action.

Democratic Sen. Jason Holsman, while talking about the budget near midnight Thursday, called on the chamber to pass SB 68. Hough, the original bill sponsor, was also supportive.

“This is a much larger economic development package than any one company. This is about showing businesses across the county that Missouri is not only open for business, but we look forward to working with companies that make investments in our communities, our working families, and the future of innovation,” Hough, a Republican, told The Missouri Times. “I am excited that the Missouri House worked with our Governors office and businesses across the state to formulate a plan for growth and economic vitality for our next generation of Missouri workers.”

Fast Track has encountered problems in the Senate for months. The Conservative Caucus has been the most outspoken group opposing it — though noting any path forward might need to be tied with education reform. 

Tax credits, too, may not have easy sailing.

“I am excited about the prospect that one of our major employers in St. Charles is thinking about making a major investment in our area. That being said, there is a lot more to St. Charles County than tax credits,” Sen. Bill Eigel, a Conservative Caucus member who has been critical of Fast Track, told The Missouri Times. “The idea that we need to expand our programs at the state level, I just don’t think that is accurate. I want to look for every opportunity to encourage General Motors or any employer to want to invest their resources in St. Charles County — we just have to it the right way.”