The Buzz

Missouri tax cuts and the truth

Missouri is about to launch an expensive and confusing argument over a massive tax cut package passed by the legislature and then vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon.

Like all political campaigns, the tax debate will be crammed with claims, facts, distortions and arguments, all hurled at speeds that will make comprehension almost impossible. You’ll be bombarded with “evidence” that the tax cuts will (a) destroy the state budget or (b) unleash the private sector to grow jobs and miraculously send more money, not less, to Jefferson City.

They’ll use employment reports, budget documents, blog posts, even the kitchen sink — all to convince you to call your lawmaker before he or she decides if the tax cut lives or dies.

Beware. Most of the claims will be misleading.

This week, for example, Nixon released a list of how much money Missouri’s schools would lose if his veto of the tax cut was overturned.

The document, though, makes several assumptions about laws and revenue that may or may not come true. It’s possible the tax cut won’t cost schools any money.

At the same time, Associated Industries of Missouri wants an override of Nixon’s veto. It applauded similar tax cuts in Kansas, which it said is bringing in revenue above “projections.”

Why, the group asked, wasn’t that in the newspaper?

Well, because comparing income with “projections” is usually misleading. Projections are merely estimates and can be wildly off the mark. In this case, actual Kansas revenue last June was 6.2 percent below revenue in June 2012, before its tax cuts took effect.

In a normal world, tax cut supporters would highlight this news: proof, they would say, that tax cuts mean less money for the state and more for you. Instead, they’re pushing a fiction that cutting taxes means more money for you and for the state, the ultimate free lunch.

But here’s a fact: If Nixon’s tax cut veto is overturned, and if certain triggers are met, Missouri will have less money than it would otherwise have had. It would cut spending. It might be schools or it might be something else, but Missouri would spend less than under current law.

Tax cut supporters would do everyone a favor if they seized this reality. Explain where Missouri spends too much money and why reducing state spending is important. Show voters why putting more money in individuals’ pockets is more important than Highway Patrol officers, or teachers, or Medicaid, or prisons.

Then let Jay Nixon make the opposite case.

Then Missourians can decide who’s right.