Gov. Eric Greitens joined the chorus of Missouri Republicans calling for cuts to the state income tax in his second State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature Wednesday night.
With a spate of tax-slashing bills already introduced in both the House and Senate, and with the GOP holding super majorities in both chambers, the push for tax cuts seems to be picking up steam in 2018.
Critics have pointed to Kansas, which saw its state budget fall into financial chaos after income tax cuts were implemented in 2012.
After nine rounds of budget cuts, Kansas lawmakers voted last year to rescind most of the 2012 tax reductions.
Greitens called tax cuts “one of the best investments we can make in Missouri.” He vowed to lay out a detailed tax cut plan by early next week.
“It is the boldest state tax reform in America,” he said of his plan. “And with your help, we will lower taxes for working families and make it easier for businesses to come to Missouri and create jobs. And we will do it in a way that is fiscally sound, maintains our state’s triple-A credit rating, and does not burden our children with debt.”
Sen. Bill Eigel, a St. Charles County Republican who is sponsoring a tax cut bill that’s gotten the most attention so far this year, said he was happy taxes played such a prominent role in the governor’s speech.
“I’ve laid out a plan that includes things I think both Republicans and Democrats have at some point endorsed,” he said. “There’s a lot to work with there. We’re a long way from the final product, and I’m looking forward to that discussion.”
Eigel’s excitement was shared by state Sen. Mike Cierpiot, a Lee’s Summit Republican who expressed optimism that Missouri can avoid the budget issues Kansas faced.
“I’m excited to work on this tax bill,” Cierpiot said. “I think he’s going to do it in a responsible way.”
While he promised a tax cut plan, Greitens once again delivered his State of the State speech without laying out his plan for the state budget.
The State of the State has long been when governors unveil their proposed budget for the next year. Greitens broke with that tradition last year, and has faced criticism for doing so again this year.
“A State of the State address without a budget proposal is like a cheeseburger without the burger or the cheese – everything important is missing,” said state Rep. Gina Mitten, a St. Louis Democrat.
Another repeat from Greitens’ first State of the State a year ago was his call for lawmakers to pass a ban on lobbyist gifts to elected officials.
Greitens signed an executive order on his first day in office banning gifts from lobbyists to state employees of the executive branch. He noted that the Missouri House approved a gift ban last year that died in the Senate.
The House is set to pass the gift ban again on Thursday.
His critics have noted that one of the reasons the gift ban stalled in the Senate last year was Greitens’ own behavior.
Greitens refused to disclose how much lobbyists and corporations paid to bankroll his inaugural festivities, and his political team founded a nonprofit that doesn’t have to abide by voter-imposed campaign contribution limits or reveal where it gets its money.
Some senators have publicly balked at passing a ban on lobbyist gifts while the governor’s nonprofit can accept unlimited cash from lobbyists.
The governor made no mention of the controversy, instead urging lawmakers to immediately stop taking lobbyist gifts with or without a formal ban.
“I have a simple request,” he said. “I call on every member of the legislature to join me in a pledge not to accept any gift from lobbyists.”
Greitens speech also emphasized his push to cut government regulations on business, saying government red tape has been “ building up for too long, like plaque in the arteries of Missouri’s economy.
“My team and I will continue to eliminate regulations that are unproductive and unnecessary, and, when we need legislation to roll back regulations, we will work with you,” he said.
He also emphasized jobs, saying that while “we haven’t fixed in one year what was broken over the course of many decades, and many Missourians still struggle,” his administration can tout that there are “more jobs in Missouri than ever before, people are going back to work, and we are moving Missouri in a new and better direction.”
The governor, who had not held public office before he was sworn in last year, said legislators were sent to Jefferson City “not to work for the connected or the comfortable, but for those who have felt counted out and forgotten.
“They are strong and proud, and while they may not have pull or power or privilege, they do have enormous potential,” he said. “To those Missourians, I have a simple message: We have been and we will fight for you every single day.”
Reaction to Greitens’ speech was mixed.
“Oh my God. That was deplorable,” said state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a St. Louis Democrat, as she exited the speech.
She noted the areas Greitens made no mention of his in speech, most notably education and health care.
“We’re talking about an educational system throughout the state that is crumbling. Higher ed is losing funding through the budget every single year and there was no dialogue or no talk about how higher ed is sustaining itself?” Nasheed said. “We have people dying each and every day because they don’t have adequate health care and there was no conversation about health care? Give me a break.”
State Sen. Rob Schaaf, a St. Joseph Republican who has repeatedly clashed with the governor, also criticized the speech.
“That was the shortest State of the State address that I’ve ever heard in 16 years,” Schaaf said. “It was devoid of any real meaningful reform and it had a lot of platitudes that I didn’t object to, but I don’t really know what the nuts and bolts of what he’s trying to do are.”
Rep. Paul Curtman, a Franklin County Republican who is running for state auditor, touted Greitens’ push for tax cuts and his call to eliminate government regulations on businesses.
“Usually, government siphons more money and time and attention out of the people and out of our local economy,” he said. “If we leave it in our economy, our economy will become more robust and prosperous.”
House Speaker Todd Richardson, a Poplar Bluff Republican, said the governor did “a terrific job.”
“I share the governor’s optimism that we can again take big strides this session in our goal to make Missouri the most competitive economic environment in the nation,” he said.