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MO Legislators Host Breakfast, Policy Discussion in O'Fallon

Three GOP lawmakers from the St. Louis region appeared before a mid-morning crowd at O'Fallon's Civic Park Hall to speak briefly about the challenges facing the state.

The e co-hosted an informational breakfast for residents and business owners with Missouri lawmakers Tuesday morning. State Sen. Scott Rupp, R-Lincoln, and state reps. Kurt Bahr, R-O'Fallon and Vicki Schneider, R-O'Fallon gave brief statements and took audience questions.

Rupp, who serves as chair of the senate small business and redistricting committees, provided an overview of Missouri’s mixed bag economic outlook.

“We are not Illinois, we are not California. A lot of states are in massive trouble. They have massive debt,” Rupp said. “But in Missouri, we didn’t go down that road.”

He said the state is one of only six nationally to retain its AAA bond rating and is in the top five for financial soundness due to more than $1.6 billion in budget cuts throughout the past two years.

Still, with one in six Missourians on food stamps and job losses of more than 160,000 since 2008, Rupp said the state is not out of the woods yet. “Missouri has to continue to live within its means,” he said.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to bring common sense reforms into some tax credit programs. Eliminate some, keep some that are needed, but just bring it in,” Rupp said.

He cited recent cuts to state tax credits for historic preservation, which reimburse developers for 25 percent of the cost of renovations for certain historic buildings. The program cost state coffers a high water mark of $186 million in 2009, but in the first half of fiscal year 2011, lawmakers budgeted only $32 million.

One audience member questioned whether cuts alone could lift Missouri from its economic doldrums. “Certainly I can appreciate the need to curtail spending. But, ultimately, you can’t save your way to prosperity,” he said. “I just want to know what exactly you are going to do help the job picture.”

Bahr responded that small businesses create jobs, not the government. “If we raise taxes and pull money out of the economy, we don’t grow the economy,” he said.

Rupp said the state used to be a great manufacturing force, but that manufacturing was no longer the driving force of the economy, and Missouri needs to adapt more of its tax-credit policy.

“We need to play to our strengths. We are the leader in plant-science issues all over the world,” he said. “These are the new jobs, the high-tech science jobs of the future.” Rupp said the state should also focus on higher education and the financial services industry, in which Missouri is also a national leader.

Schneider detailed a plan, working with the Department of Revenue, for the state to begin collecting sales tax at point-of-sale, rather than the current standard of business owners submitting payments up to 30 days after. She said the state has faced as much as $125 million in sales tax delinquencies throughout the past five years and is then forced to spend additional money in legal fees and collection fees.

“We’re about this close to making it happen,” she said, eyeing the end of the year for possible passage of the legislation. Schneider, a house representative since 2003, added that she hoped to run for state senate “in the next couple years.”

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