Editorials

Editorial: Missouri budget cutters learned all the wrong lessons from Kansas

kmyers@kcstar.com

By now, it should be clear to all that Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens will cut, cut and cut some more to balance Missouri’s beleaguered budget.

“I will not raise your taxes,” the first-year governor said the other day as he signed his first budget into law and cut $251 million in the process.

He objects to even the most modest of tax increases, such as tying the gasoline tax to the consumer price index to boost the state’s pitiful highway spending.

No wonder the Columbia Daily Tribune’s Hank Waters now refers to Missouri as “Kansas light.” Ugh. We know what Kansas-style budgeting means in our neck of the woods.

Among Greitens’ latest cuts was medical care for 8,000 elderly and disabled residents. Nursing homes and hospitals will see reimbursement rates slashed. The cut to higher education will jump from 6.5 to 9 percent. The Department of Social Services that cares for poor and disabled folks must trim $30 million.

Even printing costs for the state Blue Book that provides information on state government were reduced.

Many of the state’s budget woes are self-inflicted. Projected growth of state revenue — once calculated at 3.4 percent last year — came in at 2.1 percent. Republican lawmakers, meantime, continue to stand by an ill-advised corporate income tax cut that shrank revenue from $435 million to $280 million. Now, income taxes may also be cut because the state’s modest growth is triggering a reduction based on 2014 legislation.

Given all this budget pain, there was great anticipation about what a Greitens-appointed tax committee would recommend. The final report, issued June 30, wound up jettisoning any ideas that might lead to higher taxes. Among the proposals considered and then tossed were elimination of sales tax exemptions, taxing online purchases and a rejiggering of personal income tax brackets.

One notable proposal survived, and it has merit: scaling back low-income housing and historic preservation tax credits. That’s an idea that both Democrats and Republicans have backed in recent years. The credits reduce the amount of income taxes paid, and the programs have gotten out of hand. For instance, Missouri redeemed more than $575 million of tax credits during fiscal 2016.

A recent state audit found that state tax credits cost $5.4 billion during the past decade and will cost another $3 billion in the next 15 years. Lawmakers from both parties have long known the programs need trimming, but they can’t overcome the army of lobbyists fighting for them.

Prediction: Attempts to trim them again will falter. That will keep Missouri squarely in budget-cutting mode for years to come — just like what its neighbor to the west endured. Look what it did for Kansas.

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