Editorials

Editorial: Which poor Missourians will have to pay for lawmakers’ mistakes?

Missouri lawmakers struggling to finalize the state’s budget are debating whether to a) cut support for in-home and nursing home care for the elderly and disabled or b) cut tax credits for elderly, poor renters. How did these get to be the choices?
Missouri lawmakers struggling to finalize the state’s budget are debating whether to a) cut support for in-home and nursing home care for the elderly and disabled or b) cut tax credits for elderly, poor renters. How did these get to be the choices? File photo

We have a question for Missouri lawmakers struggling with which bits of gristle and fat have to be cut out of the state’s $27 billion budget by Friday.

The options now on the table have you debating whether to a) cut support for in-home and nursing home care for the elderly and disabled or b) cut tax credits for elderly, poor renters.

All we want to know is: Whaaaa? How did these get to be the choices?

Were there no more helpless Missourians — the homeless orphans of military veterans, perhaps? — to make pay for the fact that you messed up?

Twice, actually. First, Medicaid costs are up, but we’d be in a better position to handle those costs if you hadn’t turned down the federal funds that would have come with Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

Additionally, you seem to have accidentally slashed corporate taxes beyond what even you intended.

Your war on the poor is not new, but it is shameful.

First, the budget Gov. Eric Greitens has put forward proposes that the state save $52 million by making it harder to qualify for a program that subsidizes care for those who are elderly and disabled. Some 20,000 people would be kicked out of that program as a result of his plan.

Legislators in the House were understandably uncomfortable with that cut. Only, they thought that instead of punishing the disabled elderly, they’d repeal a property tax credit for low-income seniors who rent their homes. About 100,000 people would lose the $500 credit as a result.

A Democratic filibuster nixed that effort in the Senate, where there had been no discussion of cutting that program.

But now the conference committee has to decide which group of poor elderly people to disadvantage as a result of legislators’ own miscalculations.

After deciding to fully fund public schools, “we’re left with deciding between poor senior citizens and physically disabled citizens to balance the budget,” said Kansas City Democrat Jason Holsman, “when we could be reforming the corporate tax loophole.”

He’s referring to the legislation sponsored by Lee’s Summit Republican Sen. Will Kraus that took effect in August 2015. Its fiscal note said the state would lose $15 million in revenue annually. But that was off by about $185 million, and yes, now it costs the state $200 million in revenue every year.

Eventually, to make up for that little oopsie, Missouri legislators might have to go to the voters and ask them to raise taxes.

As that’s not a career enhancer, no one’s rushing to do it. But at some point, the powerful will run out of ways to punish the powerless for their mistakes.

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