Missouri tax cut could hinge on a few Republicans

07/21/2013 11:59 AM

07/21/2013 11:59 AM

As a former volleyball and gymnastics coach in the De Soto Public Schools, Elaine Gannon knows a thing or two about dealing with pressure.

Her advice: “Stay calm, stay focused and play as a team.”

Now a freshman state lawmaker, Gannon may be about to experience her first true test of political pressure.

She’s one of just three House Republicans who voted against an income-tax bill when it passed in May. That bill was vetoed in June by Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat from Gannon’s home town.

Now supporters of the tax break have launched a multi-million-dollar advertising campaign to persuade pivotal lawmakers like Gannon to override the veto during a September session. Nixon, meanwhile, has been flying around the state holding news conferences in an attempt to sustain his veto.

Gannon is undecided how to vote.

“I’m bracing for a lot of pressure,” she said. “I think I can stay calm and I can stay focused. I feel like I’m a good listener.”

But she added: “I am part of the Republican Legislature, and I realize that can be a team thing also.”

An Associated Press survey of key lawmakers shows that majority party Republicans may have to demonstrate complete team unity to enact the income tax cut over Nixon’s objections. The bill would gradually reduce the tax rates for individuals and corporations and create a lucrative new deduction for business income reported on individual tax returns.

A veto override requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers. That’s 109 House votes and 23 Senate votes. Republicans currently hold exactly 109 House seats and 24 Senate seats, meaning they can override vetoes without Democratic help only if they all are present and stick together.

In May, the tax-cut legislation passed 103-51 in the House, with 100 Republicans and three Democrats voting “yes” and three Republicans and 48 Democrats voting “no.” Eight current lawmakers were absent for that vote, including six Republicans who remain in office. (Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, also was absent but has since resigned after winning election to Congress, leaving one seat vacant in the Missouri House.).

Two of the three Democratic representatives who originally voted for the bill – Steve Hodges, of East Prairie, and Ed Scheiffer, of Troy – told the AP that they will not vote to override Nixon’s veto.

Hodges acknowledged that his original vote was influenced at least partly by politics as he was running for Congress against Smith at the time. Scheiffer said his reversal is due to Nixon’s subsequent revelation that the tax-cut bill contains a drafting mistake that would impose sales taxes on prescription drugs.

The third previously supportive Democrat – Jeff Roorda of Barnhart – told the AP that he now is undecided.

“I’ve questioned my position,” Roorda said, “because of the revelations that have come outside of session” – specifically, the prescription drug tax provision and Nixon’s projection that the bill would cost more than lawmakers assumed.

Without Democratic support, an override would require all six previously absent Republican lawmakers to show up and vote for the bill in September. It also would require the three previous GOP “no” votes to switch to “yes.”

Most of those who were absent told the AP that they plan to vote for the tax cut in September. But Rep. Sue Entlicher, R-Bolivar, said she remains undecided and wants to hear more from her constituents.

Like Gannon, the two other Republicans who originally voted “no” told the AP that they now are undecided about how to vote in September. Rep. Kent Hampton, of Malden, said he opposed the bill because he did not fully understand its consequences and is now giving the legislation a close read.

Rep. Dennis Fowler, of Advance, said his local school officials are opposed to the income tax cut but he’s been getting a lot of emails from citizens in support of it. The decision is not easy.

“This one kind of keeps you awake at night,” Fowler said. “I’m going to wait and see on it.”

Conservative political activist Rex Sinquefield, a retired investment broker, already has poured about $2.4 million into an election-style campaign for the income tax cut. There will be TV, radio and newspaper ads, billboards, social media sites and thousands of promotional materials mailed directly to homes. The goal is to persuade people to contact their lawmakers – particularly the undecided few – to encourage a veto override.

Gannon, who feared the income tax cut could adversely affect education funding, said she already has received several emails and text messages from constituents in support of the tax cut.

She ultimately may have to make a pressure-packed choice: Does she stick with her original reservations and vote “no,” or stand by the political party that helped her win election and vote “yes?”

“We'll see,” she said.

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