JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — While the governor works with lawmakers on ways to lower the state’s income tax rate, a group of senators is “disbanding” in hopes of attaining peace among Republicans.
Representatives and senators will be headed back to Jefferson City soon to give Missourians a permanent tax cut. With recent infighting among Republican senators, Democrats have been called in to help.
“Before, we were never even invited into the room and now we are going to the top table,” Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said Tuesday. “That comes from the Senate being dysfunctional as what it was last year.”
Some called the Missouri Senate broken during this past legislative session. By the middle of the session, the three factions were easy to spot: Democrats, Republicans, and the Conservative Caucus.
“Stalling the chamber and throwing fits, that’s what fighting looks like when you’re willing to stand for your principals,” Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring said.
Eigel, along with four other Republican senators, Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, and Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, released a letter Monday saying it’s time for the Conservative Caucus group to “disband.”
“The Conservative Caucus was never meant to be a permanent organization,” Eigel said. “We were seeing a series of votes that were really out of step with the GOP platform so, we operated as a group that would sometimes oppose these ideas.”
According to the letter, the caucus was formed back in 2018 and since then, “the statistics on voting records bear a striking contrast between Conservative Caucus-aligned Senators and colleague Republican members.”
The announcement comes just before a special session to reduce the state’s income tax rate and reauthorize tax credits for farmers. Last month, Gov. Mike Parson said he hoped by January 1 the state’s income tax rate will be 4.8%. Currently, it’s 5.4%.
Before Parson’s July announcement, he vetoed a plan to give Missourians a $500 non-refundable tax credit based on last year’s filing. It was estimated to cost the state up to $500 million and would be based on last year’s filing.
The legislation said individual filers could get a rebate of up to $500, and married couples could see up to $1,000. However, there was an income cap in place, not allowing any individual who makes more than $150,000 a year or married couples with annual incomes over $300,000 to receive the rebate. Parson’s reason for vetoing the tax rebate was because the General Assembly did not authorize spending the funds out of the correct amount which would violate the constitution.
After the income tax cut, he said the state will still have money left over.
As for the tax credits for Missouri’s largest industry; agriculture, the legislation passed by lawmakers this year, the tax credits expire in two years, the governor saying that’s not enough time to get new projects started using the credits. Parson is asking for a six-year sunset provision.
A handful of agriculture groups support the governor’s call for a special session after they were disappointed the tax credit programs were only authorized for two years.
The tax incentives are important to farmers, rural businesses, meat processors, and biodiesel producers and to establish “urban farms.” Parson has spent the past few weeks meeting with lawmakers throughout the state to find a resolution to the special session. Tuesday morning, he met with Senate Democrats.
“There have been times when we’ve had special sessions where everything was worked out before we came down and we had a pretty good idea of what we were there to do,” Rizzo said. “I didn’t get that feeling today. I think this is very much still a work in progress.”
He said his caucus is not against giving Missourians a tax credit but says it needs to be done in the right way.
“We have a lot of programs and a lot of liabilities that we have to make sure that we’re making ends meet as a state before we start cutting taxes,” Rizzo said. “We’ll continue the dialog, and we’ll see if we can get to a place where we agree more than we disagree.”
Rizzo, the caucus leader of the Senate’s 10 Democrats, said he doesn’t believe the letter released Monday is the end of the Conservative Caucus.
“We will see what happens the first time the rubber meets the road, and the chamber doesn’t decide to go in the direction they want it to because that’s usually when the wheels come off,” Rizzo said. “I will believe it when I see it. Even though they may have disbanded their title, their extremism still remains.”
The statement released Monday said that now that the caucus has dissolved, they hope to “Seek unity within a single majority caucus in the Missouri Senate chamber under exclusively the Republican banner.”
“I really feel like given the results in the primary a week and a half ago, we’re at the point where I think there is going to be an appetite for a new leadership coalition that can lead the Missouri Senate,” Eigel said. “There’s a lot of buy-in to the idea that a new coalition leadership team is exactly what the Senate needs to move forward.”
Tuesday, Eigel responded to that tweet by saying Rowden was being “snark.”
“We’re not going to get any closer if it’s only met with snark and derision and that’s what we got from that tweet,” Eigel said.
The letter also states that trust was breached by leadership causing more divisions within the upper chamber, and calling on new leadership to do better.
“Unfortunately, the Missouri Senate has moved towards operating in the same manner as the Missouri House of Representatives in recent years,” the statement reads. “As continual breaches of trust were committed by leadership towards nearly a third of the Republican Caucus, divisions became public and increasingly discordant.”
“That’s why we’ve got to get away from the mistakes of the past and we are encouraging and hoping that our colleagues will embrace the message that this is a new day, and we want to try to get back on the same page,” Eigel said.
There’s still no date set for the special session, but Parson has previously said that there is a good chance it happens near the veto session takes place Wednesday, Sept. 14.