A Ford-able Proposal

Special sessions of the legislature have somewhat different rules from regular sessions and this might be a good time to review some of the basics, now that our lawmakers are returning to the Capitol on Thursday to work on two issues.

The legislature can call itself into special session but never has since gaining that authority several years ago. The authority to call special sessions has remained with the Governor. One year, Bob Holden called the legislature into special session almost immediately after adjournment because–after a veto–it had not completed budget work. This year the Governor, with consultation from legislative leaders, is calling a session to work on what has is loosely known as the “Ford Bill,” and to work on changing the way future state employees’ pensions will be financed..

TKhe special session is unlike a regular session in that the only issues lawmakers can work on are those issues the Governor specifically asks lawmakers to enact. Because of the limited agenda, lawmakers are at the Capitol for only a limited amount of time. Most of the folks will be in the Capitol for the official beginning of the session and the introduction of the bills on Thursday. If things go well, the House will debate and pass the bills Monday and Tuesday. Senator will return to take up the bills and pass them on Wednesday and Thursday, the 30th of June and the first of July. Then they’re gone until the September veto session.

This is summer vacation time for members of the legislature just as it is for the rest of us. They don’t want to be tied up at the Capitol , nor does the Senate staff, or lobbyists or even reporters any longer than necessary.

That does not mean, however, that they will just show up, vote “aye,” and truck on home. These two issues have their share of defenders and critics.

The Ford bill allows the company to keep some of the income withholding taxes of employees who will build the next generation of vehicle replacing the current Escape an Mercury Mariner small SUVs. The plant also makes the F-150 pickup truck but its assembly line is not the issue. Before Ford could keep that money it will have to commit to continuing the assembly line that now makes the small SUVs and will have to invest millions of dollars in model changeover assembly equipment. The plant employs 3,700 people, many of who could lose their jobs if Ford shifts the assembly line to some other state. But even more important than hundreds of jobs in Clay County, Missouri are the 10-12,000 jobs at the supplier factories scattered throughout the state.

This reporter opined a week or so ago on a talk show on one of our affiliates that a special session before September would be unlikely unless Ford made some kind of overt move. Ford hasn’t made that overt move but it has injected practical considerations into the discussion.

Auto companies don’t just wave a magic wand over an assembly plant and the new assembly line is instantly put together and ready to start churning out vehicles. Ford canot wait for the legislature to decide in mid-September if it will offer inducements to keep the lines going at Claycomo. It needs a decision pretty soon. So the Governor and legislative leaders have decided they can’t afford to wait either.

But there are a number of members of the legislature who see the entire thing as corporate welfare and see no reason for the state to subsidize the only company that has been financially stable enough to avoid taking federal subsidy money.

The pension bill reforms the way future state workers will finance their pensions. Present state workers do not contribute to their pensions. The proposed law would require them to share the financial burden. The state will reduce its contribution and state workers will kick in a percentage of their salaries. One of the arguments that opponents will make is that the state should pick up the entire pension costs because it pays its workers so poorly to begin with. Proponents will argue that is a noble attitude to have but the state cannot afford nobility these days. Others might adopt the Lee Iacocca approach—“I’ve got thousands of jobs at seventeen bucks an hour. I’ve got no jobs open at twenty.” The state has thousands of jobs at X-thosuand dollars a year with an employer contribution to a pension plan. It has NO jobs at X-plus dollars a year and employee non-contribution to a pension plan.

Here is some real-world understanding of the Ford bill issue. We went back to our recordings of the last day of the session when things fell apart for both bills and dug out our recording of Senate Debate on the automobile manufacturing bill. The voices you’ll hear are Senator Lu Ann Ridgeway, whose district includes Claycomo, Senator Matt Bartle of Lee’s Summit, who is strongly opposed to the whole subsidy plan, Jack Goodman of Nevada who leans away from favoring the idea, Tim Green of St. Louis who favors it, and Jim Lembke of St. Louis and Chuck Purgason of Caulfield who are philosophically opposed to the idea. At the end, sponsor Tom Dempsey of St. Charles puts his bill on the shelf with about three hours left in the session, not enough time to get things worked out enough to get the bill to a vote.

AUDIO: 2 hours

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