The Missouri legislature’s road to ruin

04/29/2014 6:25 PM

05/21/2014 2:50 PM

It is soon to be official. After passing an income-tax bill that would benefit wealthy Missourians, and likely cause hardship for others, the General Assembly is about to ask voters to also increase the state sales tax by three-quarters of a cent.

Lawmakers say more money is needed for highway repairs and other transportation projects. They’ve got that part right; Missouri’s roads need work. But if that’s the case, why pass a tax cut bill that would eventually cost the state from $600 million to $4.8 billion a year? (The scary high figure is an interpretation of the bill put forth by Gov. Jay Nixon.)

We know the answer. Missouri Republicans have swigged the tax cut cool aid. Some of them actually believe — in the absence of any concrete evidence — that cutting taxes for rich people and for certain types of businesses will create jobs. Others are simply out to burnish their conservative bona fides. What’s a good Republican these days without a tax cut vote to brag about?

Why, even Grover Norquist, he of the infamous no-tax-increase “pledge,” was in Missouri this week to shore up any Republicans who might be wavering in the face of Nixon’s determined opposition and inevitable veto of the tax cut bill. Some people think Norquist is in Missouri so often he needs to register as a lobbyist.

Presumably, the anti-tax guru was already back in Washington Tuesday afternoon when the Senate agreed to the public vote on the sales tax increase. He surely would have frowned on that.

Some Senate watchers had predicted a filibuster by unpredictable GOP Senator John Lamping. But he only stated a few objections, including the fact that Missouri would have the 9th highest combined local and state sales tax in the nation if the tax could pass. Perhaps he is holding his fire in case he feels the need to mount a prolonged attack on a Medicaid expansion bill.

The Senate vote was 22-10, with Republicans Dan Brown, Will Kraus of Lee’s Summit, Brad Lager, Ed Emery, Brian Nieves, Rob Schaaf, Kurt Schaefer, Eric Schmitt and Democrat Jolie Justus of Kansas City joining Lamping in opposition.

The House already has agreed to a one-cent sales tax increase, whereas the Senate resolution is for three-fourths of a cent. The two chambers are expected to reconcile that difference swiftly, probably going with the lower amount.

Whatever the talents of the Missouri legislature as a group may be, a flair for marketing is not among them. An income tax break for the rich and a sales tax increase for the rest. That’s what we’ll be hearing, over and over, if the transportation tax gets on the ballot. And no matter how badly the roads need repairing, it’s hard to justify what the legislature has done this session as good economic or tax policy.

And if the sales tax fails? That’s a distinct possibility, given that Missouri voters recently rejected a tax increase on cigarettes. If Nixon fails to stop the tax cut bill, the legislature will have reduced the state’s ability to pay for needed road work by at least $600 million a year.

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