For many Missouri residents, the checks came in comparatively small amounts, perhaps $20 or so. But over the course of several years, the state mailed nearly $1 billion of those special refund checks to millions of taxpayers, all because of the anti-tax passion of one southwest Missouri man.
Mel Hancock authored a citizens’ initiative limiting state revenues and local taxes that won voter approval in 1980 as an amendment to the state constitution. It helped propel him to a seat in Congress. And even after he left public office, the complex measure known as the “Hancock Amendment” still reaped rewards for taxpayers.
Hancock died early Sunday in his Springfield home, his wife, Alma, said Monday. He was 82.
A native of Cape Fair in rural southwest Missouri, Hancock graduated from Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield and served as an officer in the Air Force before entering the insurance business. In 1969, he co-founded the bank security firm Federal Protection Inc. Hancock then delved into politics. He founded the Taxpayer Survival Association in 1977 and used it as a springboard for the constitutional amendment.
The Hancock Amendment sets a state revenue limit based on a percentage of the growth in the personal income of state residents. When revenues exceed the cap, tax refunds are triggered — something that occurred regularly in the economic boom of 1995-1999. in that time, the measure resulted in $972 million refunds to Missouri taxpayers. When the checks for the 1999 tax year were mailed in late 2000, the median refund for each taxpayer was $21.
There have been no refunds since then, but that’s partly because the amendment forced a change in public policy. In response to the swelling state revenues, Missouri legislators enacted a variety of new tax breaks in the mid- to late 1990s. Then the economy dipped this decade, leaving a large gap between the ceiling imposed by the amendment and Missouri’s revenues.
The amendment that Hancock backed also prohibited the state from imposing unfunded mandates on local governments and required voter approval for local tax increases.
David Cole, the chairman of the state Republican Party, said Monday that Hancock “put Missouri at the forefront of the populist revolt against excessive government spending.”
After unsuccessful runs for U.S. Senate and lieutenant governor, Hancock was elected to Congress in 1988 and served four terms, building a reputation as a fiscal and social conservative.
Besides his wife, Hancock is survived by two sons and a daughter. Funeral arrangements are pending.