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Debate of tax bill cut short

Tuesday, March 11, 2008 | 3:53 p.m. CDT; updated 9:50 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 14, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — A measure to bar judges from imposing tax increases moved forward with controversy Tuesday in the Missouri House after a Republican leader prematurely cut off debate.

Republicans want the proposed constitutional amendment to appear on the November ballot.

On Tuesday, House Speaker Pro Tem Bryan Pratt called an end to debate after about 10 minutes, without allowing any Democrats to speak on the legislation.

He then declared that the measure received initial approval on a voice vote, even though the no votes from minority party Democrats were louder than the yes votes from majority party Republicans.

Democrats were irate. They had a dozen amendments they had hoped to discuss.

“He used the power of the gavel to disenfranchise on this important issue,” said House Minority Leader Paul LeVota, D-Independence. “It’s really shameful.”

Although Rep. J.C. Kuessner, D-Eminence, was waiving a paper near a microphone to get attention to speak, Pratt told reporters later that he did not see anyone — neither Democrats nor Republicans — seeking recognition to talk. Pratt said the voice vote sounded close to him.

“I called it in my judgment,” said Pratt, R-Blue Springs, predicting that the legislation ultimately would pass the House with bipartisan support.

The voice vote was just a first step. A subsequent roll call vote is needed to send the measure to the Senate.

Immediately after the tax proposal, the House moved on to another proposed constitutional amendment to require local governments to roll back their property tax rates when their tax revenues rise by more than inflation as a result of reassessed property values.

On that measure, Pratt asked twice if anyone had anything more to say and called for the first-round voice vote only after receiving no response.

The House passed a similar judicial tax amendment last year by a 91-60 vote, but the measure never cleared the Senate.

In addition to banning court-ordered taxes, the proposal would prohibit state courts from ordering lawmakers or governmental agencies to spend money except as approved by legislation or a vote of the people.

Sponsoring Rep. Jane Cunningham cq did not point Tuesday to any instances where state judges have ordered tax increases in Missouri. The closest they came was in 1993, she said, when a Cole County judge declared the state’s school funding method unconstitutional and the governor and Legislature legislature responded by raising taxes for schools.

Since then, Missouri’s school funding method has again been challenged. Last year, a Cole County judge upheld the current method as both adequate and fair, but suing school districts have appealed.

Cunningham cited as the impetus for her legislation a federal desegregation lawsuit involving the Kansas City School District that lasted 26 years and cost Missouri taxpayers more than $2 billion to comply with court-ordered improvements.

The “case was a cancer and a decision that is spreading to state courts all over the nation,” said Cunningham, R-Chesterfield. She cited more recent court rulings in Kansas and Arkansas, among other states, that have forced increased state spending for schools.Kuessner accused Republican lawmakers of using the judicial tax proposal as means of drawing their supporters to the ballot booth.

The proposal “is creating a problem and coming up with a solution,” Kuessner said. “I think it’s a device to energize their base in November.”


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