Greitens calls Missouri lawmakers into special session

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens announced Thursday that he's calling lawmakers back to work about a week after the end of their regular session to discuss legislation that could make it easier to open a new steel plant and reopen an old aluminum smelter in rural southeast Missouri.

The legislation would allow the state Public Service Commission to approve special electric rates below the cost of service for aluminum smelting and steel-works facilities, which require a lot of electricity. It would also allow the companies to negotiate longer electric rate contracts through 2027.

Bill sponsor Republican Rep. Don Rone said the proposal could be a boon for his area in New Madrid, which experienced more than 900 layoffs when a Noranda aluminum smelter closed last year. A Switzerland-based company purchased the land and said it would reopen parts of the smelter.

But the smelter won't reopen without the lower electric rates, Rone said.

"The number one thing (the company) needs is affordable power — they've got everything else they need," Rone said. "If they do not have that rate ... they'll scrap the plant."

Another company also is considering opening a steel-works facility in the area, he said.

Rone has said his measure could help create 500 jobs. He tried to attach his proposal to other legislation during the regular legislative session that wrapped up work May 12. It overwhelmingly passed the House after an impassioned speech by Rone about the importance of the bill for his region.

But some Senators opposed provisions giving the Public Service Commission new ratemaking powers, which could more easily allow cost increases for improved electric infrastructure to be passed on to customers.

Republican Sen. Doug Libla said in a written statement Thursday that the proposal would diminish oversight powers by the Public Service Commission and would allow rate increases for average households.

"Ratepayers have no choice when it comes to their electric provider," he said. "If the Rone amendment (had) not had this sweeping deterioration of PSC scrutiny, and only had language that actually helped New Madrid, I would have been an enthusiastic supporter."

When meeting in a special session, lawmakers are only allowed to discuss topics specifically mentioned in the governor's proclamation for the special session.

Each full week that lawmakers are in special session costs about $28,000 in the Senate and between $50,000 and $100,000 in the House, depending on how many lawmakers are there each day. Those costs primarily stem from the $113.60 daily allotment for lawmakers and travel reimbursements of 37 cents per mile.

House Speaker Todd Richardson said representatives would work "quickly and efficiently" to pass the legislation while "keeping taxpayer cost to a minimum."

New Missouri governors have a history of exerting their power over lawmakers. Nearly every Missouri governor since 1965 has called a special session during his first year in office. The only exceptions were Republican John Ashcroft, who took office in 1985 but didn't call a special session until 1989, and Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who took office in 2009 but waited until June 2010 to call his first special session.

Like Greitens, many governors have framed their special session as vital to economic development. All three of Nixon's special sessions were focused job-creation measures; lawmakers approved tax breaks targeted at airplane-maker Boeing Co. in 2013 and at Ford Motor Co. and other automakers in 2010 but failed to pass a wide-ranging package of business tax breaks in a 2011 special session.

Lawmakers approved a wide-ranging package of tax breaks for businesses, developers, investors, cattle ranchers and movie-makers during a 2007 special session called by Republican Gov. Matt Blunt. Legislators also approved a package of business and development tax breaks during a 1997 special session called by Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan.