Tick, tick, tick, tick…

A second full week of the special legislative session is non-history. Thoughts a week ago that some kind of compromise could be reached by now that would clear the way for movement on the two pieces of legislation have proven decidedly optimistic. And so a special legislative session that some are calling “bizarre” will ooze into a third week.

At this point the House and the Senate don’t even know when they’ll come back into session. The House staff was supposed to meet yesterday to talk about scheduling. But the meeting was cancelled. The staff can’t even meet to talk about when to have a meeting. Therefore we are offering today a non-progress report.

We don’t know what kind of negotiations are going on because–IF they are going on–they’re being done by telephone or text message or emails, not in any formal committee negotiating sessions.

The ultimate goal is to pass the Automotive Manufacturing Jobs Act that most people refer to in verbal shorthand as “The Ford Bill.” Before the Ford Bill can come up for Senate debate the House and the Senate have to agree on the changes in the state employees’ pension system. The big hang-up is Senator Jason Crowell’s insistence that a new investment board be set up that can oversee the Missouri State Employees Retirement System, known as MOSERS in acronym-speak, and the Missouri Department of Transportation and Highway Patrol Employees’ Retirement System, the MDTHPERS–which is so impossible to pronounce that it has been given the MPERS acronym. The House members, on the other hand, argue there’s no need for a new super board because the present system was set up just a few years ago and has not had a chance to perform because of the recession. They want to see how well MDTHPERS/MPERS does when the economy gets better

There is some thought that House and Senate negotiators have wasted a critical week by carrying on discussions long-distance instead of putting negotiators together in a room face to face and letting them pound on each other until a compromise is found. Unfortunately the process has stalled before it reached the point of conference committees being appointed. Part of the feeling by some Capitol observers that the special session is in full dither mode is borne from that lack of physical presence at the Capitol.

In our talk with Governor Nixon late yesterday afternoon, he indicated that he does not think Crowell’s superboard is essential to the reform of the pension system. He wants an agreement on pension reforms so lawmakers can return to Jefferson City early next week and finish work on the two bills. The big pension issue as far as he’s concerned is the 4% employee contribution to state pensions by future state workers.

Crowell is a hard man to budge once he plants his feet in an idea. The Governor and the House members working on pension reform apparently agree Crowell’s superboard isn’t needed. But this is a time to recall former Senator John Scott who often quoted Andrew Jackson during Senate debate: “One man with courage makes a majority.” Or maybe Thomas Jefferson said it. It’s been attributed to both. Regardless, Crowell is capable of being that one-man majority.

Nixon is not ready to decouple the Ford bill from the pension bill although he clearly preferred to talk about the urgency of the Ford bill more than the importance of the pension bill when we talked with him. He says Ford is in the process of deciding where it will build its next generation of cars and he hopes the legislature does not continue to seemingly wallow in indecision any longer.

He didn’t say “wallow in indecision.” That’s our phrase. But it seems to capture the moment.

Nixon says the state will save enough money by making future workers contribute to their pensions, thus lessening the state’s contribution. The savings will offset the lost income the state incurs with the income withholding taxes it lets Ford keep. The Senate leans in that direction. But House members suggest the Ford bill can be financed through the Quality Jobs program instead of through pension savings.

The point guy in the House on the pension bill, Rep. Jim Viebrock, says House members believe 80% of the bill is workable—but the super board is not digestible. He says the House is in a “holding pattern” waiting to see what the Senate does on the jobs bill. The Senate, again, is waiting to see what the House does on the pension bill before it takes steps to get a jobs bill past Senator Chuck Purgason who is refusing to let his Fiscal Oversight Committee vote on it because he objects to giving tax breaks to a profitable international corporation that are not available to thousands of small businesses.

All kinds of appropriate descriptions seem to fit in this circumstance—trying to herd casts; trying to move a wheelbarrow full of toads; trying to get chickens to stand in formation. Let’s try this picture: .

Did you ever see a vehicle get high-centered on a dusty road—-get stuck on the high middle of a dirt road? That’s what we have. Two vehicles are high-centered on a dusty road, the end of which can’t be seen.

One way to get off the high center is to lighten the load, thus increasing ground clearance and allowing movement.

Something’s gotta go.

More than 10,000 people at Claycomo and at parts plants that supply the Claycomo factory hope the thing that does NOT go is Ford.

But Ford’s clock is ticking.

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