Spence endorses 'right to work,' historic tax credit curbs in RCGA speech
GOP gubernatorial hopeful Dave Spence endorsed “right to work” in Missouri, which would bar companies from operating "closed-union" shops where employees must pay dues if the majority has voted to be in a union.
Responding to a question at a forum Friday sponsored by the St. Louis Regional Chamber & Growth Association, Spence told a crowd of business leaders that he would support the proposal.
“It’s time we explore it,” Spence said. “I know it’s a political hot potato. It’s kind of like the crazy political uncle in the closet that’s knocking at the door. Let him out, let’s talk about it, and let us see if there’s a common-sense solution. Doing nothing is wrong. And I know there are (two) sides to this argument. But it’s time we brought it out and started talking about it.”
After affirming his support for "right to work," Spence noted that several surrounding states – mainly in the South – had adopted the policy. “And they are growing and are getting more businesses and we are not,” he added.
While Republicans in the legislature have called "right to work" as a priority, it has often gone nowhere in the GOP-controlled General Assembly. (It also failed to pass in the 1970s when it was put up for a public vote.)
Even if it did make it through the legislative process, Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, would almost certainly veto it.
While supporters of "right to work" – generally Republicans – argue that the proposal would make the state more attractive to potential businesses, opponents, including organized labor, say it drives down wages and curbs workers' clout.
In response to Spence's remarks, Missouri Democratic Party spokesman Isaac Wright said, "Going after Missouri workers is not a job-creation strategy, but it isn’t surprising coming from a dishonest guy who’s only ever looked after himself.”
Spence also added that other needed policy changes – including altering workers’ compensation and workplace discrimination laws – would make the state more competitive. Spence was critical of Nixon’s decision to veto legislation on both those issues.
He also said the state should reexamine unemployment benefits, saying that “we’ve made it way too easy to stay unemployed in our state.”
“We need a safety net, but we’ve created a hammock,” Spence said. “And we have got to simply start bringing it in, tightening it up and bringing people back to work. There are jobs out there. It may not be the job that you left. It may not be the job that you want. But if it’s between putting food on your table and not putting food on your table, there are jobs."
In an interview with the Beacon after his remarks, Spence said he would support a cap and a sunset on the historic preservation tax credit. That’s the incentive used to rehab older buildings, especially in urban areas such as St. Louis and Kansas City. Some Republicans have pushed to curtail the incentive, arguing that it's too costly during a time of budgetary woes.
“Historic (tax credits) have done a good job of revitalizing our city,” Spence said. “Right now, if we don’t tweak some things, all of sudden buildings built in the ‘60s are going to be eligible. I don’t know about you, but we ought to put a cap on that and put some common-sense limitations. And I think we should also have sunsets on them so they come into review.”
Spence has made re-examining tax credits a big part of his campaign. He said during the forum that he would use savings from curtailing tax credits to invest in areas such as higher education.
(Democrats noted that Spence's former company -- Alpha Plastics Inc. -- got tax credits in the 2000s. Spence's spokesman told the Beacon that Spence wasn't calling for an end to state tax breaks to businesses, rather a review of what works, a point he emphasized during his speech.)
When asked whether he would support raising gasoline or tobacco taxes to raise revenue, Spence said, “I don’t support anything that cuts into net income right now.” He also said he doesn’t support enacting toll roads to collect revenue to fix the state’s highways.
Even if Spence supported any of those options, a public vote – and not the governor’s approval – would most likely be required to enact any tax increases.
Into the frying pan
While Spence devoted most of his speech to policy, he touched on his rationale for getting intopolitics after several decades in the private sector. Spence emerged as a major candidate for the Republican nomination after Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder bowed out of the governor’s race and decided to run for re-election.
Spence said that one motivation was his feeling that areas of the state – including Missouri’s cities – had fallen into disrepair. When he was younger, he said, people had a “a sense of wonderment” about St. Louis.
“Most of St. Louis had more optimism and had more businesses,” Spence said. “They were building new buildings, people were moving here, home prices were stabilized. You know, the north and south St. Louis weren’t the war zones that they are now. Our schools were much better.
“Right now, I just don’t see that,” he added. “We are stakeholders of Missouri. Everybody in this room is a stakeholder of Missouri. And we are a stakeholder of St. Louis. And this business is failing.”
Spence faces several Republicans in the Aug. 7 primary, including Kansas City consultant Bill Randles and anti-abortion activist Fred Sauer. However, state Democrats and Gov. Jay Nixon are focusing primarily on Spence, who is wealthy and the chief contributor to his own campaign.
Spence himself even quipped “if someone had said I’d be speaking before the RCGA as the presumptive nominee for the Republican candidate for governor, I would have said you’re crazy.”
Spence has come under fire over missteps involving his college background and his tenure on the board of Reliance Bancshares, which took $40 million in federal bailout money. He later told the Associated Press that he voted for the bank’s decision in 2011 to delay paying back the money because of the bank's continued financial struggles.
Democrats recently set up a website this week featuring a web video of Randles criticizing Spence on the issue.
“Republicans and Democrats alike are disturbed and confused by Dave Spence’s refusal to repay his bank’s $40 million bailout from Washington,” said Wright in a statement earlier this week.
Spence campaign spokesman Jared Craighead asserted that the Democrats were focusing on "a ridiculous issue." Spence said Democratic critics are going over “plowed turf.”
"I wasn't on the board when they took the vote to take the TARP funds. I joined the board later," Spence said, noting that he invested in the bank when other board members didn't. "I had other things going on in my life. I resigned. I got no preferential treatment. I lost my tail in the investment."
Asked if he would have done anything differently so far in his first foray into elective office, Spence said, “I don’t think anything can be gained by looking in the rear-view mirror.”
Beacon political reporter Jo Mannies contributed information to this article.