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My crystal ball is in the shop for repair, but do I need one to take an educated guess about what Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields and Majority Leader Kevin Engler are thinking about their Republican colleague, Senator Jason Crowell? They figure the problem with him isn’t so much that he’ll be term limited out after his current term but that he’s got three more years after this one before that happens. They don’t care that he’ll be termed out: Cape Girardeau is solidly Republican. Crowell won by 64 percent of the vote last November. So replacing him with another Republican is a cakewalk, and in the meantime, what a colossal headache he is.

He and his good friend, former House Speaker Rod Jetton, just toppled, for this year anyway, the CWIP legislation. Jetton has been working for Noranda Aluminum, Ameren’s biggest customer, to defeat it. And Crowell filibustered the bill, with help from Sen. Joan Bray (D-St. Louis).

That filibuster produced some of the most interesting head butting of this year’s Senate session, with Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) calling Bray a liar at one point, and with Schaefer and Crowell squaring off as the proxies for the two competing GOP consultants in Missouri. Schaefer represented Jeff Roe, while Crowell represented Jetton.

Okay, that skirmish is over, but the economic development bill, or eco-devo as it’s known, still looms, and this one promises to be even more of a lulu, because the Senate can’t just fold on the whole bill the way it did on CWIP. To further complicate the scenario, it looks like there will be two veteran talkers, Crowell and Sen. Jeff Smith (D-St. Louis), vying to stop it in its present form. And, implausible as it seems, they are simultaneously allies and adversaries. They’re allies because they both want the bill in its present form stopped and because they agree that any cap on historic tax credits should be very high because those credits have done so much to rejuvenate downtown St. Louis.

But the two men are adversaries as well. Crowell refuses to vote for eco-devo unless tax credits from now on become subject to the annual appropriations process. We need oversight, he says. He figures that the Missouri lege hands out tax credits like candy–with little thought as to how those extra calories are going to bloat our fiscal waistline. It’s too easy for people who’ll be termed out soon to be generous. They won’t be around when Missouri steps on the scales and gasps four years down the line.

Smith also wants restraint when it comes to tax credits. In fact, last year, he and Crowell were allies in opposing the $880 million that Charlie Shields proposed giving to the Bombardier Aircraft company of Canada to build a plant near K.C. But Smith believes that reviewing tax credits annually to decide whether to extend them makes it next to worthless ever to grant any of them at all. Most projects that deserve the credits take 3-5 years to complete.  

Who is going to start a major project if he can’t have confidence that the tax credits will be there four years from now? Developers won’t sink capital into turning a warehouse into loft space in St. Louis city if they have to worry that by the time they’ve acquired the building, gutted it, and installed the beams and joists, the tax credits will get ripped out from under them.

If Crowell had his way, developers would have to sweat it anew every year at the whim of the Appropriations chairman, someone that generally changes every couple of years. They want to invest, not shoot craps. Smith pointed out to me that Gary Nodler, the current chair, is termed out in 2010. Maybe Rob Mayer, who is the next ranking Republican on the committee will succeed him. What will his policies be like? And what if he doesn’t succeed? Suppose it turned out to be Brad Lager next–Lager, who thinks that the historic tax credits those Washington Ave. developers have used to bring part of downtown St. Louis back to life, is just out of control spending.

No, Smith feels there must be some promise of continuity.

And where will this ideological, and very long-winded debate, leave Engler, the debate moderator, and the eco-devo bill? Republicans want to get the bill passed. They could use the Missouri version of the nuclear option, just shut down the debate by “calling the previous question” (PQ). But that weapon has been reserved in the past for use against Democrats.

Dave Drebes suggests this possibility:

More likely, they will do to Crowell what they did to state Sen. Matt Bartle a couple of years ago when he tried to stop an appointment. They’ll just keep the senate in session all day and all night until he can no longer physically stand. Bartle lasted 13 hours. Crowell has some allies and might be able to hold the floor longer, but eventually there are limits to human stamina.

Oddly enough, a stubborn insistence on preserving historic tax credits might work out for Smith. Who knows? But Crowell’s similar stubborn insistence on his vision of putting tax credits into the appropriations process is probably doomed. If one of them manages to succeed, it looks more likely to be the Democrat in a GOP controlled chamber.