JEFFERSON CITY - Despite previous failures, legislators are once again attempting to create an international trade hub in St. Louis.
The idea came before the General Assembly last session, but died when the House refused to take action on the bill, after the Senate tacked on a series of tax-credit cuts to the proposal. The Senate plan amounted to a total of $1.5 billion over a 15-year period. Legislators heard the same proposal during the special session but members of each chamber could not compromise on the bill, effectively ending all hope of passing it.
That is, until the current legislative session.
The House Economic Development Committee unanimously passed a bill Tuesday night, which grants a total of $60 million in tax credits over eight years to freight forwarders who direct cargo out of St. Louis to international destinations. The original plan for an international hub at Lambert offered $360 million in tax credits to companies to build a hub, which included warehouses to hold cargo.
Bill sponsor, Rep. Mike Leara, R-St. Louis County, said the tax credit incentives would create new business and jobs for the St. Louis area. The tax credits' expiration date could be extended if the legislature chose to reauthorize the credit; otherwise, they would run out after the original eight years ends.
Leara also said the tax credits to freight forwarders would allow St. Louis to compete with international hubs in other cities, such as Chicago and Atlanta.
"I believe this is just a little kick in the pants to get some attention on the issue," Leara said.
Kansas City area representatives expressed concern that the bill would only apply to St. Louis, but Leara said he was open to the idea of expanding the idea of a cargo hub to any area in Missouri that could support one. Missouri Chamber of Commerce president, Dan Mehan, said the he was also open to the idea but St. Louis was likely the best candidate for the hub due to the work and planning that has been carried out over the past few years.
"The story of the airport has been that of losing a hub," Mehan said, referencing the loss of TWA in 2001. "St. Louis would be the first to try and capitalize on this opportunity."
Committee chair, Rep.Anne Zerr, R-St. Charles, reminded members and witnesses that Leara's bill is essentially the same as the one the committee had passed during past sessions. Although business representatives came out in support of the bill, there was little opposition to the proposal, and those that opposed were soon cut off by Zerr for not sticking to the purpose of the hearing.
The proposal now awaits a vote on the House floor.